The provincial government in Balochistan led by Chief Minister Jam Kamal ended the year 2020 with a series of questionable decisions. The year-end decisions of fencing Gwadar, cracking down on informal oil trade, and handing over the operational command of the Levies force to police have raised many eyebrows, with many people pointing out these decisions have further exposed the inability of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) led government to deliver effectively.
In the second week of December, the Balochistan government suddenly began fencing Gwadar city. The plan, as told by government officials, was to fence 24 square kilometer area of Gwadar city and only allow two to three entry points. People with special permits can enter through these points, as per government plans. It was also claimed that the idea of fencing was part of the Gwadar smart city masterplan. A government official even revealed to the media that fencing was being done so that Chinese personnel could go for an outing and cherish a marvelous walk along the beaches of Gwadar.
This decision by the government triggered strong opposition from people across the province. A jirga held in Gwadar rejected the government’s plan to fence off the port city and termed it an attempt to restrict the entry of local people in the area. Political parties, media, and civil society also questioned the rationale behind this decision. Balochistan Bar Council challenged this decision in the high court. However, some businessmen and politicians associated with the ruling party expressed support for this decision.
In the face of mounting opposition, a delegation of provincial government ministers visited Gwadar on December 29. After hearing the opposition of locals, the government announced to stop the fencing till the complaints of residents are addressed. Although the opposition of locals prevented the government from moving ahead with the fencing, the government is still adamant about carrying on with it. A fenced city will never be able to get the confidence of foreign investors and this decision, if implemented, will effectively kill all chances of any foreign direct investment in Gwadar.
The second questionable decision of the government was taken on December 28, when the Home Department issued orders to security agencies to crack down on informal trade of Iranian oil in Balochistan. It is an open secret that Iranian oil is smuggled from the border to Balochistan, from where it is transported to the entire province and bordering areas of Sindh, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This informal oil trade was taking place with the tacit approval of both Pakistan and Iranian governments. This trade helps provide cheap fuel in bordering districts of Balochistan and a source of livelihood to tens of thousands of people who take risks to transport the oil from the Iranian border to its destination.
The reason such decisions are made and implemented is that this government does not have a proper debate and discussion mechanism to take input and perspectives from all stakeholders. The government also does not listen to the advice of the opposition