TORKHAM: The pathetic conditions at the border crossing especially on this side of the border, smell of urine, unhygienic environment and rude behavior of staffers of countless authorities – mostly irrelevant — have been a matter of serious concern for those going to and coming from Afghanistan, which warrant the government’s attention.
The situation on the border, especially Torkham crossing, is one of the leading reasons contributing to the increasing anti-Pakistan sentiments among the people of Afghanistan. Almost all members of a delegation of experts from different fields that recently visited Afghanistan under the aegis of Peshawar-based Institute of Regional Studies (IRS) expressed similar feelings and deplored the situation at the border crossing. Interestingly, there was greater mess on this side of the border than the Afghan side.
Dr Fazlur Rahman Qureshi, a senior academician, was too critical of the things he observed at the border. He said it didn’t even look like a border. The prevailing disorder makes it difficult for the people to cross the border in a respectable manner.
“The smell here is unbearable. There is no proper lavatory system. The attitude of the authorities is rather insulting,” he said, while talking to The News. Mehmud Jan Babar, a Peshawar-based journalist, said that immigration facilities at border crossings across the world were supposed to facilitate the people. “But here the matter seems to be the other way around. The facility is used for minting money instead of providing help to the travelers,” he remarked.
“I saw a number of authorities checking our passports, travel documents and luggage who had no relevance with the job,” he said. He said that immigration was purely the job of the relevant wing of the Federal Investigation Agency and checking luggage was the duty of Customs authorities.
“Interestingly, one of the authority has already been barred from the practice through official notification, but its official still doing that job,” he maintained. “Look! This is an international border. I saw the facilities on the Afghan side of the border far better than our side. It looks like a prison, not a border crossing,” he said.
Fida Adeel, another media person, who was also part of the delegation, called for an immediate ban on the use of sticks by the uniformed men on both sides of the border. The security men equipped with batons shove the travelers like cattle, which make their first impression at the border very unpleasant, he said.
The men in uniform were seen using sticks against the children, including girls, who were trying to take luggage from one side of the border to the other. This carriage of luggage, which is locally referred to as ganda, has been a regular business on the border in which mostly children from poor families are involved.
Fida Adeel said that there should be a separate lane for common people and commercial vehicles. From this gate, the people of both the countries will get a pleasant first impression and only then will they progress towards improvement in other fields, he added.
“The Torkham border seems to be the biggest issue for all and sundry, especially the Afghan government. Therefore, special attention needs to be focused on resolving this issue,” he suggested. Mohammad Saad, an Islamabad-based businessman, observed that the immigration building, markets and taxi stands on the Afghanistan side were far better than this side.
The problems of Afghan travelers have also multiplied, he added. The business of carrying luggage across the border in hands and carts has also affected, he said. These luggage carriers called as gandamar in local dialect were earlier allowed to go up to the Customs counter of Afghanistan and the vice versa and it is their centuries’ old business, he said. Now they are not allowed to cross the Zero Point.
Earlier some 20,000 to 25,000 people were engaged in different petty businesses on both sides of the border and everyone would earn Rs4000 to 5000 a day. But this business has now come to a complete standstill, he claimed, adding exports have shown a sharp decline due to the problems at the border.
Earlier, if 5,000-6,000 trucks used to cross the border, the number has dropped down to 500 to 600 now. Jibran Shinwari, another journalist, said that visa restrictions have also added to the problems of the people. It has been properly notified that the Afghans would be given a visa on arrival, but the process could never be commenced, he said.
Also, it has become the most difficult task for the Afghans to get a Pakistani visa, Jibran said, adding that even after getting a visa, they face serious problems and insults when crossing the border. Only patients and students are allowed to get a visa on arrival after serious hardships, he said.
It was generally observed that the mess at the border and the visa restrictions have caused surge in human smuggling between the two countries as influential people prefer to cross the border illegally instead of getting involved in the humiliating legal process.
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