A Grassroots Victory In Gwadar

Haq Do Tehreek's Maulana Hidayatur Rehman beat off competition to get elected from PB-24 on the back of promises to address public issues, raising hopes of locals

A Grassroots Victory In Gwadar

Residents along the Makran coastal belt are rejoicing because Maulana Hidayatur Rehman, leader of the grassroots Haq Do Tehreek Balochistan (HDTB) in Gwadar, has won a seat in the next provincial assembly of Balochistan. The victory has brought optimism and hope to the residents of Gwadar.

They hope that Maulana Rehman will be able to raise their voice in the halls of power located 900 kilometres away in Quetta and address the longstanding issues faced by residents of the coastal city. Key issues include deep-sea trawling and border trade with Iran.

Maulana Rehman consistently and continuously raised these issues to garner public support before and during the February 8 general elections. It helped him secure 20,925 votes from residents of the district; 4,403 more votes than his closest rival, Mir Hamal Kalmati, from the Balochistan National Party (BNP).

His shock election marks a historic electoral upset against one of Gwadar's entrenched political dynasties, the influential Kalmati family. Despite their three-decade rule, the Kalmati dynasty failed to address the grievances of the public, which prompted a decisive shift in favour of Maulana Rehman during the February 8 elections. 

Under Maulana Rehman's leadership, the Haq Do Tehreek has gained popularity across the Makran coastal region. His electoral victory represents not just a political triumph for a grassroots movement but also instils hope among thousands of Gwadar residents that their chosen representative will be able to resolve their issues, bring to an end the exploitative practices of deep-sea trawling and ensure open trade with Iran.

Parliamentary rookie but constituent veteran

The significance of this victory extends beyond simple politics. Deep-sea trawling has deeply impacted the livelihoods of thousands of fishermen across the coastal belt, from Pasni, Gwadar, Ormara, Jiwani, and Ganz to Peshukan. Elected representatives from Gwadar have failed to address these issues in the past, which is why the public decided to back Maulana Rehman.

Maulana Rehman does not have much experience being in parliament. Instead, he says he wants to prioritise his constituents who have entrusted him with their votes. 

"I am committed to engaging with experienced political leaders to glean insights and strategies for the district's betterment," Maulana Rehman said in a video message issued on February 12. "I will do my best to address longstanding issues for which I campaigned and received votes."

But Rehman is by no means a rookie politician.

In the 2013 elections, Maulana Rehman contested elections for the provincial assembly as a Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) candidate. He lost the election, receiving an embarrassing tally of 941 votes.

Tremendous weight of public expectation

Gwadar residents are optimistic that the Maulana will halt unchecked trawler operations along the Makran coast, which have wreaked havoc on marine ecosystems.

According to 54-year-old sailor Dost Mohammad from Pasni, most of these trawlers intrude into the Makran coast from Sindh. These large vessels use massive nets to catch fish indiscriminately. In contrast, local fishermen avoid deep-sea trawling to preserve marine ecosystems.

Mohammad notes a decline in fish catch, including white and black pomfret, lobsters, and Indian mackerel — the lifeblood for small fishermen, due to extensive deep-sea trawling in recent years. 

"As a result of deep-sea trawling, local fish traders are burdened with debt, and the once-thriving Indian mackerel season has disappeared, leading to significant losses for fishermen and sailors supplying fish to companies in Balochistan and Karachi," he cried, hoping that after Maulana Rehman's election to the provincial assembly will bring about much-needed change.

"We were already frustrated with losing our only livelihood and were on the verge of giving up. But the Maulana gave us hope, which is why we voted for him," said Asif Ghamani, a fisherman from Jiwani, who braved terror attacks and violence to go and vote for Maulana Rehman.

Residents of Pasini, a city adjoining Gwadar, have high hopes that Maulana Rehman would be able to deliver after his shock victory. 

Pasni-based journalist Sajid Noor says Pasni fishermen have long been protesting, demanding the rehabilitation of the Pasni Fish Harbour and stopping deep-sea trawling. But their pleas had fallen on deaf ears. 

It was Maulana Hidayatur Rehman who raised this issue in a public rally during his electoral campaign that Pasni's fishermen started dreaming.

Muhammad Rahim, a fisherman from Pasni, echoed this optimism and believes the fate of his city's fishing community may soon change.
"With Maulana's victory in the 2024 elections, there is a glimmer of hope that he might finally be able to stop deep-sea trawling."

Hope has also been kindled in the dusty town of Ormara. Residents have high expectations that Maulana Rehman will be able to succeed where other leaders in the past had failed and effectively address their issues. They said that, unlike other politicians, he had shown genuine interest in resolving their concerns. This gives them hope for positive change.

"We hope Maulana will keep fighting for our rights on the assembly floor," said Kuda Bakhsh, a local fisherman from Ormara.

Birth of a grassroots movement

Local fishermen typically work 12-hour shifts with a small crew on each boat. In comparison, the trawlers operate for twice that with a crew as large as 40 men. This continuous 24-hour operation leads to the near depletion of fish stocks, leaving little for the local fishermen to catch. As a result, they often return empty-handed despite their hard work and dedication. 

The trawling issue resulted in a widespread but largely peaceful resistance movement germinating in Gwadar, the flagship city of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Aimed at preserving the rights of local fishermen, the movement later gained momentum and spread to other coastal cities of Pasni and Ormara.

Locals say the resistance movement began in Gwadar under the leadership of Maulana Hidayatur Rehman. Its main agenda was safeguarding the Makran Sea and ensuring livelihoods for Baloch fishermen, allowing them to catch fish without facing any threats.

Maulana's movement was initially called the Gwadar Haq Do Tehreek (GHDT). Later, as it spread to other districts, it transformed into the Haq Do Tehreek Balochistan (HDTB). 

As its support base grew, so did its scope and soon, it included two other agendas: facilitating trading in the border areas and removing security checkpoints in Makran. The latter agenda item helped the Maulana garner support from non-coastal areas of Makran, such as Kech and Panjgur. 

Old politician, new cause

Zainab Baloch, a woman at the forefront of the GHDT, expressed happiness at Rehman's electoral victory. She accredited Maulana's victory to his long struggle for civic rights for coastal residents. 

However, she recalled that he did not always enjoy widespread public support. In 2013, she recalled that Maulana Rehman was quite active on the JI platform, where he advocated a religion-driven agenda, which is why he could not gain much support.

"But now Maulana sits with local fishermen on the roads, in restaurants, and cafes. He has become a true public representative, not a representative of JI. That is why the public supported him."

Even though he will have to travel 900 kilometres to be a part of the provincial assembly in Quetta, Zainab hopes Maulana Rehman will find the time to remain among his people.

"He is someone who understands the problems of the common better than anyone else, and the common man trusts he will energetically fight for their rights," she said, adding, "We hope he won't change like other leaders of Gwadar."

Maulana Rehman, though has not cut ties with the JI.


There are many who are not quite happy with Maulana Rehman getting elected to the provincial legislative assembly from Gwadar. 

Indeed, a look at the Form-47 issued by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) declaring results of the constituency shows that Rehman was among 13 candidates and that his margin of victory was not a landslide. His biggest opponent finished just 4,403 votes behind with a sizeable tally of 16,522 votes. 

"Maulana should have pursued his politics through the HDTB and avoided going to parliament. I fear he won't be as vocal as he was in the past because, in parliament, people often become compromised," said Hatoon Bibi, a resident of Gwadar.

Remembering promises

On February 13, 2024, after his first visit to the Pasni press club as an MPA-elect, Maulana Hidayatur Rehman said, "I will make sure the Trawler Mafia leaves Gwadar district peacefully; otherwise, we will take action against them according to the law. I belong to these roads and cannot afford to be unaware of the roads in any way. If any oppressed person protests on the road for their rights tomorrow, I, as an MPA, will stand by their side."

Upon being asked about the rehabilitation of Pasni's fish harbour, Maulana stated that it is included in the manifesto of the HDTB. "As your MPA, I will also ensure fishermen's rights and the preservation of the sea through the Fisheries Act, which was introduced by Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo but has never been enacted into law."

The author is a female scholar pursuing my MS in English Literature at the University of Karachi.