Taking notice of protests by local fishermen, premier says he will speak with Balochistan chief minister to resolve month-long demonstrations
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday vowed to take “strong action” against illegal trawler fishing off the coast of Gwadar following nearly a month of protests by residents of the Balochistan district, which is considered key to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.
“I have taken notice of the very legitimate demands of hardworking fishermen of Gwadar. Will be taking strong action against illegal fishing by trawlers and will also speak to C.M. Balochistan,” he wrote on Twitter.
Fishermen in Gwadar have been protesting for nearly a month under the leadership of Jamaat-e-Islami’s Maulana Hidayatur Rehman, who has submitted a list of 19 demands to the Balochistan government to end their demonstrations. Both Rehman and Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Quddus Bizenjo have lauded the prime minister’s statement, though Rehman noted that the problem was less of “notice” being taken and more the fulfillment of promises that the government had already conveyed to the protesters.
Hundreds of residents of Gwadar, mostly fishermen, have been protesting for a halt to illegal fishing trawlers; the removal of the Gwadar Development Authority director general as well as Pasni’s deputy commissioners and assistant commissioner; resumption of cross-border trade with Iran; provision of clean drinking water; closure of wine shops; government jobs and quotas for the disabled; and 300 units of electricity for free to all local residents. Unlike previous protests, the demonstrations have included the participation of a large number of women and children, with the participants vowing to continue until their demands have been fulfilled.
Speaking to local media, a provincial government official claimed that the majority of the protesters’ 19 demands, including the transfer of government officials, had already been resolved. He claimed that the government would soon take “stern action” against illegal trawlers. Of a demand for the government to release boats and vehicles confiscated from local fishermen under the Customs Act, he said that this was the domain of the federal government and could not be resolved by provincial authorities.
In a statement, Rehman said the protest would continue until their “legitimate” demands had been met. Referring to the prime minister’s Twitter post, he said Khan had not said anything about “important” issues such as the reopening of the Pak-Iran border; free electricity; and the return of confiscated boats and vehicles. He also lamented that despite official notifications from the provincial government, concrete actions to fulfill promises had not yet been witnessed. “We want implementation as our people are deprived of their livelihoods due to the restrictions,” he said, stressing that action against trawlers and resumption of trade with Iran were essential for the protests to end.
Balochistan Chief Minister Bizenjo, meanwhile, asserted that the demands that could be fulfilled by the provincial government were being implemented. He said that unnecessary checkpoints for border trade had been removed; licenses of wine shops revoked; and funds released to ensure clean drinking water. However, he added, demands like the provision of free electricity were related to federal authorities.
Speaking to state-run PTV, PTI Senator Abdul Qadir said that some of the Gwadar protesters’ demands related to the federal government were unacceptable. “If some of these demands are met, the government will have to provide such facilities to all people of the country,” he said, alleging that free electricity; duty-free cross-border trade with Iran; and the use of non-custom duty paid cars could not be fulfilled.