A Fence In Gwadar

Protesters from Vshen Dhor assert that security forces are digging ditches in their fields to potentially erect physical barriers that would make Gwadar inaccessible to them. But the government denies this

A Fence In Gwadar

In the heart of Gwadar, a coastal gem in Balochistan, simmering tensions have reached a boiling point once again. Reports of fencing initiatives in the region have sparked another wave of protests and condemnations, igniting a fiery debate over the future of the port city and its inhabitants.

At the core of this controversy lies a clash of perspectives, with residents, activists, and political figures expressing grave concerns over what they perceive as a threat to their rights and livelihoods.

On April 23, residents of the Vshen Dhor area took to the streets, blocking the coastal highway to protest against alleged digging in their fields by security forces. Protesters claimed that security forces, under the guise of enhancing the security of the local airport, were excavating ditches which could potentially isolate them from Gwadar and surrounding areas. These allegations have elicited strong condemnation from social activists and political parties, who decry the actions as violating human rights.

Prominent voices from Balochistan, including the likes of Dr Mahrang Baloch of the Baloch Yakjehti Committee, have voiced their concerns over the fencing of Gwadar. Dr Baloch criticised the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative, asserting that it has failed to benefit the Baloch nation and instead exacerbated divisions within the community. She later called for a protest in the city for May 12. Similarly, Gwadar-based MPA Maulana Hidayatur Rehman has vehemently opposed any attempts to fence the city, labelling it a gross violation of basic human rights. The political arena has further fuelled the controversy, with Gwadar's former MPA, Mir Hammal Kalmati, alleging that this is not the first attempt to enclose Gwadar with a fence. Kalmati vowed to resist any such efforts, stressing the importance of preserving Gwadar's unity with Balochistan.

The proposed fence in Gwadar has become a matter of public concern primarily due to its geographical implications and ambiguity surrounding its purpose. The fence is planned to start from Koh-e-Mahdi, near the Makran Coastal Highway to the east of the city, and extend to the Pishukan check post approximately 24 km west of the junction for the Marine Drive to Gwadar and the road to Pishukan. Since Gwadar is situated on a peninsula, the sea surrounds it on three sides (east, west, and south) and land to the north, which is now being fenced. 

Allegations of Gwadar being fenced off have elicited strong condemnation from social activists and political parties

Initially, the district administration had justified the installation of the fence as part of the Gwadar Master Plan and claimed it was primarily for security purposes. However, after poles were installed in various areas, it created fear among certain residents that a potential blockade or division of the city could be affected, given the placement of the fence. Former Gwadar Deputy Commissioner, Major (retd) Kabir Zarkun, had attempted to allay fears by asserting that the fence was not intended to enclose or isolate the city. He clarified that it was being erected only in open areas due to security concerns, and its purpose was not to block routes leading to and from the city.

However, in response to mounting criticism, incumbent Gwadar Deputy Commissioner Hamudul Rehman issued a press release denying the existence of any fencing initiatives. Instead, he maintained that their focus currently is on installing security cameras as part of the Safe City project. The government has emphasised its commitment to the prosperity and protection of Gwadar's traditional values, stating that the Gwadar Safe City project aims to enhance security through modern surveillance systems, not physical barriers.

Aen Qadir Baloch, a seasoned broadcast journalist hailing from Gwadar, believes that the authorities are unlikely to proceed with their plans to fence the city or initiate any safe city project. In a candid social media post, Qadir contends that over 200 housing projects, spanning from the Darbela area to Jiwani, are owned by influential non-local figures. He predicts that the proposed fencing of Gwadar will inevitably devalue these properties, causing significant financial repercussions for their affluent owners. With a critical eye on government expenditures, Qadir denounces the Safe City project as a mere ploy to siphon off public funds, pointing out what he perceives as a deliberate misallocation of resources.

Despite conflicting narratives, one thing remains clear: the people of Gwadar fear the prospect of displacement and marginalisation. As development projects unfold, there is an urgent need for transparency and dialogue to address the legitimate concerns of residents.

In the midst of uncertainty, the future of Gwadar hangs in the balance, caught between aspirations for development, the preservation of its rich cultural heritage, and the assurance of its citizens' basic rights.

The author hails from Gwadar, Balochistan, and is a student of journalism.