Last month, a public post appeared on Facebook and made rounds on other social media platforms, protesting against the recruitment of a person from Punjab for an administrative position at the Gawadar Development Authority (GDA) Hospital. The post raised attention towards rampant unemployment of qualified young men and women of Gawadar, and questioned why residents of the city had not been considered for appointment. A day later, the post was taken off social media following gag orders to the person who had raised the issue. The employee from Punjab, who was hired for the job, was also relieved of his duties a few days later. The post is yet to be filled. While Gawadar is being marketed to the rest of the world as the premiere coastal boom town that stands to benefit from China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) related trade and investment, for many college educated youngsters, the benefits rarely trickle down. So it is towards social media that many among the increasingly vocal youth of Gawadar turn to, hoping to fix perceived injustices. The overwhelming concern with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is palpable everywhere in Gawadar. Here, a United Bank Limited poster replaces the ‘You’ in the bank’s logo with ‘CPEC’. Around the time the issue of GDA Hospital appointment was raised in April, various activist groups also held protests against the hiring practices of Small Industries, Agriculture, and Irrigation departments of the Baluchistan government. Back in 2017, recruitment practices of the China Overseas Ports Holding Company (COPHC), which manages construction work at the port, came under scrutiny of the burgeoning civil society. “We wrote letters to the company and met their representatives to register our protest against recruitment on an administrative assistant position from Thatha [Sindh]. There are many people with comparable qualifications in the district who should have been considered,” says Barkatullah, president of the Gawadar Youth Forum (GYF), a grassroots activist group that lobbies for recruitment of district residents for public-sector jobs in the district. Their agitation bore fruit after the election of National Party leader Dr Muhammad Malik, who became chief minister of the province in 2013. Barkatullah, who graduated from the Islamia College Karachi in 2008 and after staying unemployed for four years got together with some friends to form the GYF, was among the 21 residents inducted into the provincial administration during Dr Malik’s term. An under construction boat The hamlets are yet deprived of piped gas and suffer a chronic water crisis since supply is dependent upon payments to tanker operators who transport potable water from Mirani Dam to Gawadar. Whenever payments stop, which is a frequent occurrence, the residents have little choice but to buy water from the market at exorbitant rates He now serves as a stenographer at the Secretariat, which operates from a building originally meant to be the Chief Minister’s House during winter months since the Secretariat building is in the Army’s use. “The director of the Gawadar Development Authority acknowledged that the posts were created because of the GYF’s pressure,” he says with a hint of pride, and mentions that three Gawadar residents with requisite qualifications were even hired on grade 17 posts in GDA during Dr Malik’s term. Not many new posts have since been announced, Barkatullah says, adding that ever since its establishment, the Forum has agitated ‘to build pressure on the authorities to fill vacancies from inside the district whenever possible’. It has at least 500 members, many of whom are women. Barkatullah says that it was only during Dr Malik’s term in office that the authorities started advertising for jobs. Earlier, they would recruit on their own without any check and balance. Even now, he says, Gawadar residents are deprived of opportunities by keeping jobs in the district open for the entire Makran division (Gawadar, Turbat and Panjgur districts) as well as by holding tests and interviews in Quetta. “How can you expect someone applying for a chowkidar job to go all the way to Quetta for the test?” he asks. The proposed site of the harbour and auction hall on the West Bay. Regarding the recruitment of out-of-district personnel by the COPHC and provincial government in 2017 and earlier this year, he says his organisation is considering taking the issue to the court. Such grievances aren’t targeted just at the public sector in Gawadar. A USAID-funded Pakistan Reading Project extended to the district this year is also accused of unethical recruitment practices. The project team in the province is accused of recruiting people from outside Gawadar on two posts advertised for the district earlier this year. Many locals disapprove of the Army’s control of buildings and facilities constructed in the city by the provincial government, and in the case of the GDA Hospital, being run with provincial funds as well. They use the Urdu term ‘qabza’ to refer to Army’s presence in these buildings. Munir Ahmed, who has a masters’ degree in business administration with a concentration in human resource management, alleges that the person hired on the district programme officer (DPM) position was from the adjoining Kech district and he did not even sit in a mandatory test taken by all applicants, including Ahmed. Further, Ahmed says that the person was already employed in a USAID project and his selection had allegedly been done well before the posts were advertised, adding that the tests and interviews were conducted for paperwork only. The auction hall at the harbour on the East Bay of Gawadar is the biggest such facility along the coast of Balochistan. An applicant for the school support associate position advertised in the same project for Gawadar has similar grievance. Zakir Baloch, who has a bachelor’s degree and is pursuing a B.Ed degree, says a person from Kech was hired on the post. While his B.Ed degree was under progress when he took the test in January, the person hired had neither completed the degree, a mandatory requirement for the position, nor was he pursuing it, he adds. Ahmed and Baloch were assisted by the Gawadar Association of Professionals (GAP), another organisation working to raise voice for unemployed youth, with a focus on engineering, medicine, and other professional degree holders from Gawadar. The association wrote letters to the USAID and the provincial administration but received no response. GAP general secretary Ammar Baloch, who has a degree in geology from a university in Karachi and has been admitted into the masters of geotechnology programme in a Chinese university this year, says the association was formed in 2017 as a lobbying and pressure group for educated professionals of Gawadar. Through a page on Facebook, the association shares job opportunities with its members as well as raises voice against perceived injustices meted out to Gawadar’s educated professionals. It also holds career counselling sessions where Gawadaris employed in various professions across the country are invited to speak to high school and college students. The current strength of the association is 62, of which 15 are women. The number of members with engineering degrees is 24. Nabeel Ahmed, the provincial coordinator for the Pakistan Reading Project, categorically denies that anyone was favoured in violation of merit in hiring for the project. He says the USAID has a human resources policy that governs all recruitments, adding that no one from Gawadar had met their criteria therefore, the team had opted for the two Kech district personnel for the posts. ‘Gawadar is under occupation’ The signboards in and around Gawadar International Airport carry text in English and Chinese, leaving no doubt in the minds of travellers that they have landed at the place known for its association with the $52-billion corridor that will connect the south-western region of China to the Arabian sea. The drive from the airport to the city on a recently constructed road with empty stretches of land on both sides further strengthens the image. Pakistani and Chinese flags painted on several rocky hills are conspicuous on the way. Wherever barrenness in the surroundings is interrupted by small markets, signboards of various real estate agencies dealing in plot files for housing colonies that exist mostly on paper, stand out. With CPEC, Gawadar has also seen an influx of a host of provincial and executive organisations, the first one encountered outside of the airport is the Army. Multiple checkposts dot the road leading towards the city. Once the city limits begin, the walls of shops, and even shutters, can be seen painted with colours of the national flag, a task undertaken according to several locals by army personnel on March 23 this year. Closer to the port, checkposts are manned by personnel from the Pakistan Navy. The port, under construction in the area known previously as Mulla Band ward, is inaccessible to locals, except those with ‘a purpose to visit’. RCDC, the city’s oldest civil society organisation, traces its origins to a 1940s reform movement in the region that worked for social uplift (1). The deep-sea port is a project that goes all the way back to the time when military dictator General Pervez Musharraf was in power in Islamabad. Since the announcement of the CPEC in 2013, the COPHC has been in-charge of construction activities, with the Gawadar Port Authority (GPA) playing a facilitator’s role. A group of activists in the office of a local non-government organisation explain the situation in the district in the following words: “Ye muhasaray main hai, Gawadar (Gawadar is under occupation).” They say locals haven’t been taken on board regarding port construction from the beginning. Now, Chinese presence furthers their concerns. “Ye humanity wala masla China main tu chalta nahi, ab Pakistan bhi unko follow kare ga,” (Human rights aren’t high on Chinese authorities’ agenda, now Pakistan is also going to follow in their footsteps), is how an activist saw Chinese role in the development of Gawadar port. “There’s a lot of talk now of a development plan for the district to be prepared by the Chinese. We [the locals] were nowhere in the [Gawadar development] plan prepared by our own people [the Gawadar Development Authority], it’s not hard to figure out what will be our fate in the new plan,” he says, in a sarcastic tone. RCDC, the city’s oldest civil society organisation, traces its origins to a 1940s reform movement in the region that worked for social uplift (2). These concerns get cemented in an environment where various federal and provincial agencies operate without much transparency in their dealings. Many locals disapprove of the Army’s control of buildings and facilities constructed in the city by the provincial government, and in the case of the GDA Hospital, being run with provincial funds as well. They use the Urdu term ‘qabza’ to refer to Army’s presence in these buildings. Two such facilities are the Civil Secretariat building and the Balochistan Coastal Development Authority (BCDA) building. The latter is under use as a residential quarter for the forces deployed for port security. Then, there is the GDA Hospital whose operations and management are being run as a joint venture between the provincial development authority and the Armed Forces, though funds come entirely from the provincial exchequer. Asked about the exact arrangement under which the Armed Forces are using the facilities, Bilal Kakar, the special secretary on Information to the Chief Minister, says, “Army and the [provincial] government are on the same page. The Army is looking after all aspects of CPEC in Gawadar.” RCDC’s library has a sizeable collection of books on a wide range of topics He brushes aside concerns of locals, saying that such complaints are not an accurate reflection of public opinion, and proceeds with sweeping statements like “CPEC is good for Pakistan and Balochistan”, and, “Pakistan’s enemies like India and Israel are doing propaganda to hurt CPEC”. Contrary to the black and white picture painted by Mr Kakar who sits in the provincial capital of Quetta, the narrative on CPEC on the ground in Gawadar is both convoluted and sceptical. And the residents have good reasons for that. A photocopied document shared by the Zer Fisherman Society of Gawadar shows that there was no provision for a harbour, with facilities like a jetty and an auction hall, in the original master plan prepared by the Gawadar Development Authority (GDA). The East bay of Gawadar, where the deep sea port is under construction, has been shown in the map without the harbour, boating jetty, and an auction hall, all of which support a flourishing fish trade along the Makran coast. Gawadar’s nascent press operates from small offices located around the Press Club in the old city. The impression on the ground among fishermen and traders is that the authorities plan to move the harbour to either of the two smaller fishing towns in Pishurgan, 50km away, or Sur Bandar, 30km away. Though that was the original plan, the authorities have now agreed to move the harbour to the West bay, says Nasir Solangi, the head of the RCDC, a major non-government organisation that runs a school, a library and works on issues pertaining to human rights. Solangi adds that as many as 24 of the 33 wards of Gawadar were to be directly affected by the construction of the port. That figure has come down to just one because of concerted efforts of the local population. Only the Mulla Bund I ward, where the under construction port facilities are located, has been displaced. The population has been relocated to the New Mulla Bund neighbourhood, set up at around 10 minutes drive from the port on roads with with hardly any traffic for now. At the moment, the proposed site of the harbour on the West Bay, close to Koh-i-Batil, has nothing except a narrow strip of land that goes about a kilometre into the sea. Made out of stones whose surface has been levelled, the strip can be accessed by fishermen on foot or on motorcycles from the Marine Drive, the road running parallel to the coast on the West bay. Gawadar’s boat making industry is also located nearby, but plans to expand the Marine Drive into a double carriageway have left all those associated with the industry concerned about their livelihoods. “Construction work for road expansion has started already, and they [boat makers] haven’t been given any area to relocate their work to,” says an elderly fisherman who is getting a new boat made at the site. This picture of the West bay contributes to the scepticism of the fishermen and traders operating out of the harbour on the East bay about chances that a replacement would be constructed anytime soon. “Have you gone to the West Bay and seen the place? It will be a miracle if they [the GPA] are able to construct a harbour similar to the one on the East bay over there anytime soon,” says Shahid Mahmood, a trader at the Auction Hall. Zer Fishermen Society has been serving as a platform to raise fishermen’s concerns with the provincial and federal authorities for several decades. Younas Anwar, the chairman of the Zer Fishermen Society, says the ownership document of the Auction Hall have obtained by the GPA. “They may demolish it any moment, and they haven’t yet clarified if a similar facility will be constructed on the West bay,” he says, as a group of fishermen sitting beside him at the porch at the society’s office in Baloch Ward nod in agreement. With the coast just a few dozen feet away, the large construction machinery deployed at the port is visible in the background. Anwar points towards the port and says, “We have requested them to build us a jetty at Gazarwan [further away from the port but on the East bay], instead of moving it to the West bay altogether,” he says, adding that all of the fishermen’s hamlets are located along the East bay. Even if the authorities don’t dispossess them from their houses directly, by moving the harbour and constructing an Expressway connecting the port to the airport, they will create conditions in which staying put won’t be a viable option for these fishermen anyway, Anwar says. Faced with such threats to their livelihoods, the fishermen are eager to benefit from the opportunities associated with port construction. However, their experience with the authorities so far hasn’t been very positive. “They have only odd jobs for our children. There aren’t any provisions for us to seek jobs above the grade 12,” Anwar says, adding, “don’t just teach Chinese language to our children. That will be good only for receiving orders from their Chinese masters.” The old city of Gawadar developed as a network of hamlets, located close to the harbour on the East Bay. “First, we were told to learn Urdu. When we learnt Urdu, we were told to get a grip on English. We complied. Then came Arabic, and now it is Chinese,” mocks Anwar, an indigenous Balochi speaker. He adds, “Enable our children to get technical skills so that they can get respectable jobs.” A brochure printed by the society mentions that following an earlier protest, 115 people from Gawadar were sent to Karachi and Islamabad for technical training, but only 12 got employment based on their diplomas. Reflecting on the poor quality of training imparted in the course, Anwar asks, “How can they teach an entire set of technical skills in just three months?” And to corroborate his claim, he refers to a man in the gathering, who introduces himself as Majeed Pholan. He was among the 12 who got employed based on the three-month diplomas. However, he says, his clerical job at the port has nothing to do with the mechanical diploma for which he was ‘trained’ in Karachi. While confirming that there would be no need for displacement of the fishermen’s hamlets along the East bay, Dostain Jamali, the chairman of the Gawadar Port Authority, agrees that life would become increasingly difficult for the community once the Expressway is built and investment starts pouring in from outside. “The government must look into the matter and make provisions for them,” he says. Dr Sajjad, the director general of the Gawadar Development Authority, says that there are plans to initiate a project to improve municipal services in the fishermen hamlets. These hamlets are yet deprived of piped gas and suffer a chronic water crisis since supply is dependent upon payments to tanker operators who transport potable water from Mirani Dam to Gawadar. Whenever payments stop, which is a frequent occurrence, the residents have little choice but to buy water from the market at exorbitant rates. During a strike of tanker operators over nonpayment of dues in the month of April, a regular chamber of water was available in the market for Rs7,000. The strike ended after a week when some payment was released to tanker owners. Asked if there are any plans to streamline this process, Nasir Ahmed, the sub-divisional officer in the public health and engineering department that oversees water supply, insists, “Delays are a routine in the public sector.” Noor Muhammad, a boatman, has spent his lifetime savings on a new boat that undergoes finishing touches at the workshop off the Marine Drive. Though his monthly earnings are decent given local standards, he feels that with the changing landscape of the city his children won’t be able to do well without access to quality education. For the local population, the absurdity of this bureaucratic logic is as obvious as the contrast between the old town of fisherfolk hamlets and the new deep seaport and its associated network of furnished roads connecting the port to the airport, the Navy and Frontier Corps headquarters, a five-star hotel built atop a hill that overlooks the port and new residential settlements including neighbhourhoods for local authorities and COPHC employees. Published in Daily Times, May 25th 2018.