Gwadar’s Expectations: Maulana vs Mighty Trawlers
Gwadar’s Expectations: Maulana vs Mighty Trawlers
Mirza Ghalib

Gwadar is mired with complex socio-economic grievances. Fish trawling is the primary problem that occupies the discourse along with the socio-economic status of local fishermen and their stake in CPEC projects.  For the past few years, Gwadar has repeatedly been discussed and hailed as the epicenter of CPEC in the mainstream. Yet, the locals were ignored in these ambiguous developmental measures. The Indigenous people instead of experiencing any change, growth, and progress in their lives were alienated from these measures. In such circumstances, Mulana Hidayat- -ur-Rahman appeared as a champion for indigenous rights. He came to light when he organized a movement Haq Do Tehreek in 2021, against socio-economic grievances. His primary demands were to abolish security checkpoints and stop fish trawling. He was also extremely critical of CPEC and its marginalization of local people. Meanwhile, in another sit-in in 2022, he blocked the port road. Subsequently, in December 2022 the sit-in was met with force and dispersed. In the elections of 2024, Maulana was elected. In his election campaign, he has repeatedly argued to address the socio-economic grievances of local people. Fish trawling has been one of the significant issues that he discussed. However, the question arises whether Maulana can implement his rhetorical speeches into action. Can he address the mighty trawling problem and other socio-economic grievances of the local Baloch?

Before proceeding towards that, let’s shed light on trawling and its history in Gwadar. Trawling is illegal overfishing with ruthless means. Fishermen normally catch fish with some ethical paradigms. They do not use ruthless means or eliminate the entire breed. Instead, they use normal nets for fishing.  However, the trawlers use ruthless means. They destroy marine life totally, eliminating entire breeds of sea creatures. Its impact is that slowly the marine life becomes disturbed and fishes vanish. The Meds of Gwadar district have been affected by this problem for decades. It probably began in the 1980s.

Stephen Pastner, an anthropologist who visited the Baloch coastal belt in 1978 for a study, mentioned the trawling of shrimps. It slowly expanded to other breeds also. The machine engines further enhanced trawling since its speed increased. So, the question also remains who are these trawling groups? The trawling groups are huge capitalists from Sindh and Punjab. They are businessmen with a side business of trawling. On the other hand, fishing is the only source of finance for local fishermen. For decades the Meds of Gwadar have been struggling with this problem.

There have been continuous protests against trawling. Separate organizations of fishermen were also created. There has also been law-making in the Balochistan assembly to abolish trawling. In the 1990s, Mir Ghafoor, former MPA of Gwadar passed a bill to create a new department, the fisheries department. Its primary function was to abolish trawling and provide relief to local fishermen. Instead of addressing the issue of trawling, the fisheries department officials are accused by local fishermen of being on the payroll of mighty capitalists. Additionally, there have been attempts regarding the issue of trawling in the Balochistan assembly but there has not been any significant development. The Meds still have their reservations. So, returning to our primary question can Maulana provide relief to the fishing community and succeed in eliminating the trawling problem?

Adnan Amir recently wrote that Maulana’s inclusion in public office can alter dynamics. There is also widespread hope among the people of Gwadar. Nevertheless, the elections may have brought Maulana into public office. But, the grievances of Baloch populations are huge and so are the hopes of people. There has been a repeated argument that Maulana belongs to the working class and may feel the pain of the working class. Therefore, he will for sure address the people’s issues. But it should be noted that as Karl Marx cautioned the State is the executive of bourgeoise. Undeniably, the elected institutions in the country have always been elitist. These institutions have continuously disappointed the common people. These institutions have always supported elitist and capitalist extraction. The problems that Gwadar faces are mostly the result of elite extraction. The trawling groups are capitalist giants who only opt for fishing as another earning source. But, for Meds, it’s the only source of earning bread and butter, let aside the cultural connection with the sea.

The failure of elected institutions and bureaucracy since the 1990s to stop trawling reflects their ineffectiveness. Today common Baloch in Balochistan lost faith in the institutions. Yet, the common fishermen hold huge hope in Maulana to resolve their primary issues. Nevertheless, it may be early to embark on that but the unusual hope that Maulana has developed among locals will shatter soon. The money-making giants are never going to give up on resource extraction. Moreover, trawlers have their roots in Sindh and somehow in Punjab. It needs provincial coordination between these units. It’s unlikely in current times with deep political polarization in the country. The trawlers also have patronage and protection from the corridors of power. Either its inability or corruption of the fisheries department or the protection the capitalists enjoy from the powerful sustains trawling. Even if these trawlers are caught, the law is designed to protect them. A section in fishery law is the restriction of trawlers from 12 nautical miles. When these groups are caught, it is very hard to prove that they were trawling within 12 nautical miles. The local fishermen fear them and do not normally go near them. Moreover, when caught their owners bribe the officials and immediately rescue their ships. The court also has a limited punishment for that. It is only that the trawling ship and fish will be auctioned as a penalty. The legal and administrative support to trawling groups hinders Maulana’s objectives to abolish trawling.

However, Maulana has repeatedly warned that he would fight trawling and other socio-economic evil in Gwadar. The people have high hopes for Hidayat-ur-Rahman but the problems Gwadar faces are mighty. After 40 years, a new face would represent Gwadar. His performance would matter more than the previous representatives. The inability to deliver would result in huge disappointment in not only Maulana but in overall parliamentary politics. However, Maulana needs to stand his ground. He should stick to his promises.

The writer is a resident of Gwadar and an M-Phil Scholar in Political Science from Forman Christian College, Lahore.