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Why Gwadar protests against the CPEC?

Monday, 29 November 2021 | NISHTHA kaushiki

Why Gwadar protests against the CPEC?
The Pakistan army is now determining the economic and social conditions of the people in Pakistan, which will hurt the geo-political interests of the region 

Recently, sudden protests erupted in Gwadar against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Project. Slated to be an ‘upliftment project’ for the people of Pakistan, it has instead become a hallmark of Chinese expansionism resulting in crushing the rights of those very people who have hosted it. Due to Pakistan’s fragile governance mechanisms, a weak economy marred with corruption; the situation has turned grave. The protestors were supported by the local political groups and NGOs that had genuine interests against the CPEC Project. The Head of the ‘Give rights to Gwadar’ rally, Maulana Hidayat ur Rehman, has often been speaking on the rights of the people of Gwadar.  Further, the role of the National Party and Baloch Student Organisation also has to be duly recognized in raising their voices against injustice. CPEC goes much beyond the commercial corridor route. It has more penetrative, severe effects on Pakistani society.

First, the CPEC Project has a long belt of ‘coastal enjoyment industry’, which will supposedly have a vibrant nightlife with luxury hotels, spas, theatres, golf courses. Undoubtedly, the coastal land that would be appropriated for this purpose has nothing to do with Pakistan's small-scale farmers or fishers. Instead, the facilities will ensure ‘entertainment’ for the Chinese and Pakistani retired Army personnel at the cost of the fishing industry, which has a share of 2 percent in Islamabad’s economy.

The news of the Pakistani government giving licenses to the Chinese fishing trawlers has been around for quite some time now. It is in addition to the Chinese illegal and unregulated fishing in the Arabian Sea even during the critical spawning period. These trawlers possess state of the art technology to fish, process and store fisheries immediately, thereby making the competition with the local fishermen asymmetric in nature. These developments will surely leave behind a trail of unemployment and poverty,resulting in people moving towards drugs and human trafficking.

Second, the CPEC has given immense opportunities to grab huge pieces of fertile agricultural land of the farmers. As the world knows, Pakistan is by and large a praetorian state, i.e., with the Army having the upper hand in most of the government's decisions. CPEC aimed to cover all parts of food production and distribution in the agricultural sector, ranging from seeds and fertilizer manufacturing to storage and transportation. However, the Project is implemented through land acquisitions under the direct supervision of the Army. These acquisitions have been without proper compensations and sometimes even without the consent of their rightful owners. The usurped land is rented out further with ‘land rights’ to the Chinese enterprises. In other cases, the agricultural projects convert to Chinese private corporations forging joint ventures with Pakistani companies. Also, when the Pakistan-based private enterprises own the land, the owner turns out to be retired army personnel or someone who holds influence via the armed forces. It is for this reason that the army land grabs has been time and forth been brought to the notice of the international community by the judiciary of Pakistan itself. In April 2021, the Lahore High Court Chief Justice Mohammad Qasim Khan went on record to say that “the Army seems to have become the biggest land grabber in the country and .the uniform of the Army is for service and not to rule as a king”.

The CPEC Authority has decided to construct a fenced wall with only one entry and exit point to ensure that the voices are suppressed and that international media does not highlight the human rights issue. The city would be guarded fiercely with round-the-clock, AI-enabled CCTV cameras and other high technological types of equipment providing ample surveillance. Sources indicate that this wall is 30 kilometres in length and 10 feet high. Further, Pakistan raised its 34th Light Infantry Division, also known as Special Security Division (SSD), to protect the CPEC. One can hardly come across any other such example where a loan Project of “commercial importance” requires raising a military Division. The development has led to the social alienation of the people of Balochistan, Gwadar in particular and will undoubtedly lead to a full-blown violent conflict and demands for secession.

Agricultural and urban residential and commercial land appropriation by the Army through concessional purchases in the name of supporting the economy has taken deep inroads into its national character. Various Military subsidies, such as the National Logistics Cell and Fauji Foundation, have at a rapid pace nibbled out the civilian competition in various sectors such as cargo transportation, real estate, fertilizers, oil and gas etc. With each sector dominated by the Military, CPEC only seems to augment a military economy and the lust for land grab. Given the times to come, the farmers would have no legal standing over their land, and in the name of securitizing the Project, it is beyond doubt who will be the actual owner. The Army thus has a nation to itself which is shared with the Chinese Army. On the other hand, in China, the penetrative extent of the Project is that it is often called an ‘internal corridor’, and hence, it would not be wrong to say that it is a Military Project instead of an economic one.

Last year, Criminal Law [Amendment] Bill 2020 was passed that proscribed ridiculing, bringing into disrepute or defaming Pakistan’s armed forces or its members. Of course, given the brewing discontents and recent developments, the role of this Bill is well understood. Usually, the Uniform is accorded much respect, and people worldwide express their gratitude towards their respective forces. The emerging role of the Pakistani Army now seems to encapsulate the idea of defending the Taliban and other extremists apart from the Chinese Project. It is now determining the economic and social conditions of the people in Pakistan, which will hurt the geopolitical interests of the region. 

Further, the military government deepened the Baloch alienation with the murder of Akbar Khan Bugti in 2006, who at the time of his death was 79 years old. The killing of Mufti Hidayatullah in 2018, another Baloch leader, also raised the intent of the Military presence in Balochistan. Early this year, a Pakistani army Major General Ayman Bilal, confessed TO China’s role in suppressing the Baloch movement and the Sino-Pak intentions against Iran’s activities in Balochistan. The CPEC and housing societies predominantly being given to the Pakistan Army personnel probably intend to replace Balochs with the Pakistani Punjabis to contain the Baloch independence movement.

So closely related to this land plunder is a geopolitical question. Where does more land come from to settle the new batch of military officers who retire every year? The answer to this question lies in the current Afghan conundrum. In case the Afghan corridor is integrated with CPEC, then where do the Afghan people go? It seems that the Afghan refugee crisis would be a problem of Europe and Russia and not a Sino-Pak one. The appointment of new ISI Chief Lt. Gen Nadeem Anjum, who was previously the awardee of ‘Mohsin e Balochistan’, sets the agenda for Afghan ‘land grabs’ and increased suppression of the Baloch and the Afghan people. More mess, it seems, awaits the region.

(The writer is an Assistant Professor at Central University of Punjab, Bathinda. The views expressed are personal.


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