New trend: A study about the civil rights movement in Gwadar

One.Overview of the Gwadar Rights Movement

(1) Introduction to the Gwadar Rights Movement

The Gwadar Rights Movement, known locally as haq do tehreek (HDT), claims to be a civil rights organization fighting for the rights of fishermen and residents in the Gwadar Port area. The organization was formed in 2021 by the Balochistan Jamaʿat-i Islami (for short JI) former leader Hidayat-ur-Rehman. Among its core members, there are many members of Jamaʿat-i Islami, but it is popular with fishermen in Gwadar and Makran because it claims to fight for the rights of the people of Gwadar that have been neglected by the government for many years.

The fishermen’s protests in Gwadar Port in June and August 2021 failed to attract the attention of the BAP union government. The leader of the organization, Hidayat-ur-Rehman, organized a larger sit-in protest in November, and the scope from fighting for the rights of the fishermen to fighting for the rights of the people of Gwadar, and for the first time started activities with the organization of haq do tehreek. Although there has been no obvious tendency of violent protests so far, the program of action of “struggling for the rights of the people of Gwadar” advocated by it has certain hidden dangers to the safety of the current Gwadar Port project in our country.

(2) Leader of the Gwadar Rights Movement

The leader of the organization, Hidayat-ur-Rehman, was born in the town of Surbandar in the Makran district of southwestern Balochistan. He joined the Islami Jamiat Talba (Islamic Jamaat student organization) in 2003 when he was studying at Lahore University, and subsequently became involved in political activities held by Jamaat-e-Islami. Although it is well-known in the Gwadar area for its political activity, the Jamaat-e-Islami has not really participated in the provincial government and parliamentary politics in the Balochistan area, so Hidayat-ur-Rehman won’t really be known until after the massive protests he leads in 2021.

Figure 1 Surbandar Town, located in the northeast of Gwadar Port

Back in June 2016, Hidayat-ur-Rehman led a sit-in protest by members of Jamaat-e-Islami over power load shedding in the Gwadar region, which culminated in violent protests. From 2016 to 2020, he supported fishermen in Balochistan as the leader of Jamaat-e-Islami for many times. However, these protests and support were carried out in the name of Jamaat-Islamic Party and failed to receive widespread support from the people in Gwadar. It was not until 2021 that it began to lead the protests as the leader of the haq do tehreek that it attracted the attention of the people in the Gwadar area.

Figure 2 Hidayat-ur-Rehman

Hidayat-ur-Rehman’s attitude towards China has gone through two stages. He once expressed his views hostile to CPEC, but at the latest in 2016 when he was the Secretary-General of JI, he said that China’s CPEC is to help the development of Gwadar region Yes, but the local government and the provincial government jointly deprived the people of Gwadar of the right to benefit from CPEC.

   Because of his background in the Jamaat-e-Islami — which is at odds with India over the Muslim issue in Kashmir — he invited Ammer Sirajul Haq of Jamaat-e-Islami for an interview after the haq do tehreek movement succeeded in gaining support from the Gwadar masses. It revealed that its attitude towards India is also very bad. They believe that India oppresses Muslims in Kashmir. In addition, Hidayat-ur-Rehman does not make any negative statements about foreign capital and CPEC in public.

Two.Details of recent activities organized by the Gwadar Rights Movement

(1)The first protest of haq do tehreek

 In June 2021, the Gwadar Port Fisheries Association united hundreds of Gwadar local fishermen to hold a sit-in protest against the federal government’s issuance of fishing licenses to Chinese trawlers, but the protest failed to attract attention, and the government did not respond to the fishermen’s demands. Sporadic protests continued into late August. Due to the reduction of electricity transmission from Iran in Baluchistan this year, power supply and water shortages were caused. The Gwadar people, organized by the BSO (Baluch Students), the BNP (Baluch National Party) and JI, joined disgruntled fishermen in a larger round of protests. Hidayat-ur-Rehman led the crowd to block the road in Surbandar to put pressure on the Surbandar government, but this round of protests eventually died down due to the BLA terrorist attack on the vehicles of Chinese engineers on August 21, and the livelihood problems in Gwadar were not addressed positively.

The build-up of problems led to the largest sit-in protest in November, organized by Hidayat-ur-Rehman, who organized a mass protest involving the women of Gwadar, first organized under the name haq do tehreek, and even by various religious groups in other provinces, including the TLP. Industry-wide protests eventually led the BAP coalition government to compromise on the Gwadar issue. haq do tehreek made 19 demands, including stopping the issuance of fishing permits to Chinese vessels, the cancellation of multiple security posts in Gwadar, and the recovery of missing persons. The BAP government has promised everything except the recovery of missing people and the expansion of fishing areas. The protest was so influential that PTI and other political figures were invited to talk to Hidayat-ur-Rehman.

Figure 3 Crowds at the November protest movement

It is worth noting that several Baluch national movement organizations such as BNM (Baluch National Movement) and BSO (Baluch Student Organization) have launched similar protests in the past, but the Pakistani Army has repeatedly intervened in this issue, and Zakir Majid, former vice president of BSM, was even “disappeared” because of this issue. Since Hidayat-ur-Rehman organized the movement in August, the Pakistani Army has yet to come forward. Given JI’s history of cooperation with the Pakistani Army, it is highly likely that the military is behind the protest.

(2) The activities of haq do tehreek in 2022

Haq do tehreek is also active in 2022. After most of last year’s 19 demands were accepted by the government, the BAP coalition government did not seriously implement them, which led to protests blocking roads in some towns between January and March this year. This included road blockade protests in Ormara on January 20, Pasni on February 3, Sarbadan on February 10 and Coastal Highway on February 27, and a small protest in March.

In Baluchistan’s local government re-election (LG election), which began on May 29th, haq do tehreek began to contest elections as an independent political faction, signalling HDT’s transition from a movement to a political organisation. In this election, Hidayat-ur-Rehman himself did not participate directly in the election, but many members of his organization participated in the election under his instructions, and finally won 92 seats, ranking the sixth largest party. It is worth mentioning that JI also participated in the election, but only won 7 seats.

With a majority of 28 out of 42 seats on the Gwadar Municipal Council, HDT has defeated a four-party alliance of JUI-F, BNP(M), BAP and NP to become the majority party on the local municipal council in Gwadar.

Figure 4 Government elections in Balochistan to begin on May 29, 2022

The current HDT has so much influence in Gwadar that it announced on July 21st that it would block all the main roads in Gwadar, even as the BAP provincial coalition government failed to fulfil a promise made last December.

Three.Risk analysis for Gwadar Rights Movement’s involvement in China

(1) Extreme tendency risk of HDT background

The possibility that HDT is prone to extreme violence comes from the background of its leader, Hidayat-ur-Rehman, as secretary-general of the Jamaat-e-Islami party. JI, which has a long jihadist background as a traditional Islamic religious party, has been accused of links to TSNM, whose successor, Mullah Fazal ullah, collaborated with the TTP after the arrest of its former chief, Sufi Mohammed. In addition, the IJT, a student organization founded by JI, is notorious for its violence. Waheed Arshad, the former leader of the Punjabi Taliban (who has since been killed), was found to be a former member of the IJT in his early years. Some of the IJTs were even led to join the TTP.At Lahore University, there was eeen a violent incident in which professors were beaten.

Baluchistan has seen the rise of nationalism in the separatist movement against the federal government in the past few decades to the present, replacing religionism as the mainstream. In Baluchistan, political alliances are often formed by nationalist parties such as BNP, BAP and JUL-F. In education, the nationalist BSO and its derivative factions monopolize student organizations in Baloch. So JI has not penetrated Baluchistan’s politics and education until now. Hidayat-ur-Rehman is the only JI breakthrough so far in Baluchistan, although he claims that the HDT movement is not a JI movement but a Gwadar people movement, But Hidayat-ur-Rehman’s political agenda began to emerge when he invited JI leader Siraj Ul Haq to Gwadar to support the protests and, in public televised speeches, invited Baluchis to join JI and promote Islamic traditional teachings about JI, most seriously, Hidayat-ur-Rehman once said in public that jihad was acceptable.

Figure 5 In public speech, Hidayat encourages people to join JI
Figure 6 In another interview, he objected to the idea of men and women sitting together at Baluchistan University, which is very traditional Islamic thinking

Hidayat-ur-Rehman’s launch of HDT is most likely an attempt by JI to infiltrate Balochistan politics, just like they did earlier in Karachi, JI is trying to change from secularism to secularism to infiltrate politics, and when successful, secularism to secularism. If the Baluchi people in the HDT movement accept Hidayat-ur-Rehman’s guidance, it is not ruled out that JI will expand its influence in Baluchistan, which will further increase some extremist violence.

(2) The influence of the Rights Movement parties on the political situation in Gwadar

Another problem of HDT comes from the possible support of the army behind it. Hidayat-ur-Rehman and HDT’s 19 requirements are not the first of their kind. BNM and BSO have raised similar slogans in the past, and the attitude of Pakistan military on this issue is very clear.

In 2008, Altaf Baloch, one of BNM’s former leaders, was shot dead by the Pakistani army while giving a speech, while Banuk Karima Baloch fled in 2009 after the Pakistani army attacked a memorial service for Shaheed Mir Jan Meeral. Hidayat-ur-Rehman has not been targeted by the Pakistani military since 2016, when he started his political career and advocated for Gwadar rights on behalf of JI. A possible explanation is JI’s co-operation with the Pakistani military.

In fact, it is publicly known that the Pakistani military is not satisfied with its level of involvement in the CPEC project in Baluchistan. The Baluchistan government under Sharif was led by the PML-N, which chose to abandon cooperation with the PML-N in Baluchistan after refusing further military intervention in the CPEC project for a long time. This consequence was the birth of the BAP, whose alliance with the army resulted in the crushing defeat of the PML-N in the 2018 provincial assembly elections.

Figure 7 Baluchistan Prime Minister Jam Kamal Khan (in civilian clothes) at an army event in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, in October 2018. To his right is General Asim Salim Bajwa, former head of the Pakistani Army’s media division, who now heads the Southern Command in Quetta

Now, the emergence of an HDT in Gwadar, led by an Islamist group that works closely with the army’s leaders, is likely to be driven by the army’s dissatisfaction with the progress of the CPEC project in Gwadar by the BAP coalition government in recent years, as well as its intention to dismember Baluch nationalism. Hidayat-ur-Rehman’s speech in August, in which he exhorted Baluchis to abandon armed struggle, lent credence to the idea. Allah Nazar Baloch, leader of the BSO-born extremist group BLF (Baloch Liberation Front), also claimed that Hidayat-ur-Rehman was a plan by the military to interfere with Baluch nationalism.

Figure 8 Rehman travels with an Army officer, May 2022

The army’s interference in Gwadar politics means that the interests of the CPEC project in Gwadar are unevenly distributed among Baluchistan’s upper classes. The current project of CPEC in Gwadar port depends on the stability of the political situation in Gwadar region. However, HDT’s disturbance in Gwadar region now brings to the surface the problems of local sectarianism, nationalism and military political struggle, which further destabilize the political situation and at the same time form a big impact on the stable political situation dependent on CPEC project.

(3) The influence of the current Gwadar local government on the CPEC project

The most direct influence of the HDT’s rise to power in the Gwadar local government majority came from the group’s initial program of action, although Hidayat-ur-Rehman himself has not spoken out directly against CPEC in recent years and in numerous protest interviews organized by HDT. However, HDT has put forward a number of claims related to the direct security and partial economic interests of our CPEC project or our enterprises in Pakistan, including:

a. Remove security posts in cities and parts of roads and reduce checkpoints

b. Cancel fishing permits for Chinese trawlers in Baloch

c. Hydropower development projects

Figure 9 19 requirements

These demands are directly related to the safety of the CPEC project in Gwadar, especially the removal of the security posts. Under the current heavy-duty security policy, there was a suicide attack by the BLA on the East Bay Expressway in Gwadar in August 2021. The BAP coalition government has promised to eliminate some of the inspection posts. In the future, the impact on the safety of our CPEC project staff should be reassessed, but in any case, this demand is bound to cause adverse effects on the safety of local CPEC staff.

Secondly, economic interests. Most of the trawlers I operate in Gwadar waters are legal fishing vessels licensed by the federal government’s fisheries department. In fact, in June 2021, the Baloch government launched an investigation into five Chinese fishing vessels in the Baluchistan Sea and concluded that the trawler fishing was legal. Its request to cancel these permits would affect this legitimate business interest.

Another issue is the supply of hydropower in Gwadar. Currently, there is a 300MW coal-fired power plant project under construction in Gwadar, but this project is controversial recently. BAP government plans to replace the original project with a 300MW solar power plant, and the overall investment is still controversial. HDT’s protest action is bound to have an impact on the planning of the project.

New trend: A study about the civil rights movement in Gwadar

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