Barbed borders

October 31, 2021

There is no indication that the Chaman border will open anytime soon

Barbed borders

Chaman, located 125 kilometres north of Quetta, is one of the two main border-crossing points between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Due to the closure of this border on October 5, Afghan citizens, local labourers and traders are facing great difficulties.

The Afghan citizens visiting Pakistan can no longer return to their country; the local labourers who used to work for daily wages on the other side of the border, have been rendered jobless; and traders are losing hundreds of millions of rupees because their consignments are stuck at the border.

According to a local journalist, Jaffar Khan Achakzai, the border was closed by the Taliban on October 5. He says earlier Pakistan and the Taliban government had an arrangement to allow people to cross the border. Pakistan was allowing those carrying Tazkira, the Afghan National ID card, from the areas bordering Chaman to enter Pakistan. However, Afghan citizens domiciled beyond Kandahar were required to carry passports.

Before October 5, around 20,000 people were entering Pakistan on a daily basis. “3,500 of them had Pakistani CNICs, 5,000 had Tazkira and the remaining came without any documents,” says Achakzai. During this time, many Afghans arrived in Pakistan. In view of a virtual Afghan exodus, Pakistani officials made entry requirements stricter. To protest these measures, the Taliban government closed the border on October 5. It remains closed to this day.

Hundreds of Afghan citizens are now stranded in Chaman. Around 1,000 are waiting in Chaman for the border to open so that they can enter Afghanistan and go to their homes. The border closure has created a strange predicament for them as they cannot go to their homes and lack the resources in some cases even for food and shelter. The situation has resulted in a human catastrophe. The district administration of Chaman is not allowing more Afghan citizens to enter Balochistan.

Achakzai tells The News on Sunday that the local people are helping the stranded Afghan citizens. “The local people have established a shed with tents in a ground and provided beds for the Afghan citizens to sleep. They are pooling resources to provide food for them,” says Achakzai.

While these Afghan citizens are waiting to enter their country, others face deportation. According to government officials, 965 Afghans from Quetta and 1,486 from Karachi and Lasbela have been deported via Quetta so far. These Afghan citizens were deported through Badini crossing point, a less frequented border area five kilometres from Quetta.

Hundreds of Afghan citizens are stuck in Chaman due to the closure of the border. Around 1,000 Afghan citizens are waiting in Chaman for the border to open so that they can enter Afghanistan and go to their homes.

Akbar Notezai, a local journalist familiar with the deportations, says most of the deported people were poor. He says they had been living in camps near highways on the outskirts of Quetta. “The conditions of these Afghan refugees was reported in the media. The government then deported them to show that it was not sitting idle.”

Apart from the Afghan citizens, the local labourers in Chaman and importers in Balochistan are facing the brunt of the border closure. According to government officials, around 8,000 labourers from Chaman used to cross the border on a daily basis. They returned back to Chaman the same evening after doing their daily work. Now they have been rendered jobless since the border is closed.

The local traders who purchase from and sell goods to clients in Afghanistan are also facing economic hardship. Prior to the closure of the border around 800 goods-carrying trucks used to crossing the border at Chaman. “Now this trade has ceased, resulting in losses of hundreds of millions for the traders,” Achakzai adds.

Notezai says the locals in Chaman are dependent on trade with Afghanistan. Whenever the border is closed, they suffer huge losses. “Trade had returned to normal following the arrival of the Taliban in Kabul. Traders from Pakistan did not have to pay taxes on many check posts,” Notezai says. “Now the Taliban have closed the border

Pomegranate arrivals from Kandahar are a seasonal activity in Quetta. Due to the closure of the border around 40,000 tonnes of pomegranate is stuck at the border. The traders fear the fruit, which has a short shelf life, will rot. This will not only cause losses to the importers but will also create a shortage in Quetta and beyond.

A protest strike was called by some political parties over the situation this week. The protestors blocked the Quetta-Chaman highway, leading to more problems in the border town. The strike was called off following negotiations with the district administration and security officials.

“The Pakistani officials at Chaman have agreed to allow passage of coffins as well let wedding guests cross the border. However, they have refused to open the border for everybody, saying that the decision has to be made in Islamabad,” says Achakzai.

The humanitarian crisis lingers. There is no indication that the border will be opened anytime soon. There is not much optimism among the people of Chaman either.

The writer is a journalist and researcher. He can be reached on twitter: @iAdnanAamir.

Barbed borders