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Pakistan: Gwadar's struggle against capitalist "development"

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The port city of Gwadar in Balochistan is the starting point for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, CPEC, a key strategic link in Beijing's "Belt and Road Initiative". Despite the prestige projects of an international airport, power stations, new port facilities and expressways, however, the local people of the whole region have seen no benefits. Worse, the mainstay of the local economy, in-shore fishing, has been virtually destroyed by the arrival of powerful trawlers from China.

After years of broken promises of new jobs and industries, November saw a radical change in the scale of protests as a new movement, Gwadar Haq Do, Rights for Gwadar, was launched. Its sit-in in the city attracted hundreds of thousands in support of its 19 demands, including a ban on trawlers, removal of barriers to cross border trade with Iran, removal of security checkpoints, a crackdown on illegal drug trafficking, prioritised employment for local people, an end to police harassment and action on the hundreds of "Missing People" - activists believed to have been abducted by security services.

The scale of the movement alone made this a milestone in Balochistan's struggle for development, but even more significant was the involvement, for the first time, of huge numbers of women. They said they had been forced out of their homes because their men lost their jobs after illegal fishing by trawlers and restrictions on trade on the Iranian border. They complained of their extreme poverty, of families going hungry, the lack of clean water and electricity and the complete absence of health and education services.

The Gwadar movement spread to other cities and brought support from all over Balochistan. This is happening because there has been a significant change since the outbreak of the pandemic covid 19. It has had the effect of mobilising the great mass of people whose numbers overcame their fear of the state.

Now, Baloch students are also protesting for their rights, facing police brutality and arrests but demanding the government back down over privatisation of Bolan Medical College and the University of Balochistan. The students closed the university in protest at the enforced disappearance of two of their fellow students. In their support, there was a large-scale closure of educational institutions in Balochistan and the government was forced to negotiate and to assure recovery. It remains to be seen how successful this will be, but it is a great achievement for the Baloch students.

Baloch society is now becoming more active politically. Previously the only confrontation was between the security services and the guerrilla fighters but now students, women, workers, the lower middle class and the poor, in short, the mass of the population, have entered the political arena, demanding control over their own future.

This movement, therefore, is a big step forward for Baloch society but to advance it must organise itself. Not surprisingly, the initial leadership of the movement came from religious figures, notably Maulana Hidayat, General Secretary of Jamaati-Islami in Balochistan. It was he who negotiated the agreement with the government that ended the sit-in. But Jamaati-Islami was previously an ally of the security services, and the movement needs a more reliable, above all an accountable, leadership.

We call for all sectors; fishermen, workers, women's organisations, students, to elect their own action committees and for coordination between them. We demand that all projects undertaken in Gwadar should be subject to the agreement of these popular organisations. Whatever the political or religious loyalties, the movement is objectively a struggle against capitalist exploitation and the subordination of the region to the interests of Chinese imperialism and socialists should support it in every possible way.

The best support will be to spread understanding of the movement and solidarity with it among the working class and poor farmers of the rest of Pakistan. Right across the country, millions are facing increasing hardship not only as a direct result of the pandemic and rising prices of essentials but from government policies to protect the interests of the biggest corporations, Pakistani and imperialist.

Socialists must give a lead in organising the struggles for both economic and political demands by calling for democratic self-organisation in trades unions and community organisations. Only such organisations can both provide effective and accountable leadership in the struggle and build the basis for the overthrow of the existing system and its replacement by a democratically planned socialist society. All those activists who understand the need for this struggle must organise themselves, building a new, revolutionary workers' party in Pakistan.