A controversial project to fortify Pakistan’s port city of Gwadar with secure fencing – possibly to allay fears of attacks on Chinese nationals based there – has been put on hold after the Balochistan high court sought details on the government’s motive behind the planned move.

A two-judge bench heard a petition filed by Balochistan bar council vice-chairman Muneer Ahmed Kakar, who pleaded that the lives of more than 300,000 people residing in Gwadar would be affected by the move, with the possibility of half the city’s population ending up outside the planned fence.

In the past, Gwadar has seen attacks on Chinese nationals as well as security forces. Some of the attacks have come from Baloch nationalist insurgents, who during the last three years have carried out at least five major terror strikes in the area.

The security plan for Gwadar involved encircling the city with a fence and putting in place two entry and exit points, officials have said. It is believed a modified plan will be set in motion later this year.

The project has been questioned on various platforms in Pakistan. At a press meet earlier, senator Mir Kabir Mohammad Shahi said it “was a conspiracy to separate Gwadar from Balochistan”.

Following an outcry, provincial home minister Ziaullah Langove clarified this week that the provincial government stopped the fencing work “as it will not take any decision against the wishes of the people of the area”. He insisted that there was nothing more to the plan than the intention to protect the port city.

Security analyst Amir Rana feels that if fenced as planned, Gwadar would become the first Pakistani city to be “sealed” on the basis of security concerns. In a column, Rana argued that fencing is considered one of the last resorts in dealing with trans-border security threats.

Rana recalls that the 2019 attack on Pearl Continental Hotel was among the deadliest attacks in the area. The Balochistan Liberation Army, which claimed the attack, had badly damaged the building using explosives and rocket fire.

Similarly, in October this year, militants targeted security forces that were escorting a convoy of Oil & Gas Development Company from Gwadar to Karachi, on the Makran coastal highway.

An alliance of Baloch insurgent groups called BRAS claimed the attack in which at least 14 people including seven Frontier Corps men lost their lives.

These attacks have raised questions not only about the security of strategic installations, but also about the lives of foreign nationals working there.

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