Submitted by: Aetiziz Khattak
Dislcaimer: content posted under Opinion/Stasu Ghag (Your Voice) those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of PashtoScoop Media or it’s Editorial team.
The Durand Line is an important international boundary line, running between the countries of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The line cuts through the Pashtun homelands of the region and divides ethnic Pashtuns and Balochs, who live on both sides of the border.
Ever since it was fixed in 1893, the Durrand Line has divided villages, tribes and relatives on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border. Along the Durrand line lies Chaman, the capital of Qilla Abdullah District, Balochistan Province where social setup is tribal.
Across Chaman is the Waish Mandi, where Transit trade goods are offloaded. What we know as smuggling is trade for local people.
For decades, residents of Chaman used local permits to cross border and never needed any visas. Over 30,000 people crossed the border on a daily basis. These included Pakistani daily wagers and traders working in Waish; Afghan men, women ad children coming to Quetta for medical checkup, and lagharhis.
Lagharhis are Afghan individuals who physically carry and smuggle small items such as Televisions sets, old tyres, laptop comuters and other electronic items across border into Pakistan. They earn around Rs 1000-2000 a day. Their number is around 25 to 30 thousnad. Using mainly dangerous informal routes, they put lives at risk for a thousand rupees.
Border towns like Chaman and Taftan are considered the backbone of Balochistan’s largely-informal economy and closure of the border literally chokes economic activity in the province.
The Chaman border was closed in early March due to the Coronavirus pandemic. However, while other coronavirus-related restrictions were lifted, the chaman border still remained closed which had left thousand of people stranded on both sides. Closure of the border also meant loss of livelihoods for lagharhis and small traders who, after seeing no other option, started a sit-in last month against the closure of the border.
After protesting for over a month, the sit-in was ended last week as the Pakistani government agreed to open the border till Eidul Azha for transit trade and allowed the corss-border movement of the people.
However, the next day, on Thursday, the border was closed again, which brought the protesters in confrontation with Pakistan’s Frontier Crops.
According to Levies officials, hundreds of protesters belonging to the All Parties Traders Union had been staging a demonstration at Friendship Gate against the border’s closure for the past two months. The protesters forcibly removed the barricades placed in the area surrounding the gate and attempted to cross the border. Furthermore, they allegedly set fire to computers at a National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) office for border management, about a 100 containers belonging to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) as well as tents and offices at a quarantine centre nearby.
Security forces fired aerial shots to disperse the protesters. Additional troops of the Frontier Corps and Levies were also summoned to quell the protest. Reportedly, at least three people, including a woman, have died and more than 30 people left injured during the clash.
Now let’s analyse the situation
The Pakistani government had put in place a visa system which required people who wanted to cross the border to have a visa. Howeer, the residents of Chaman were exempted. They were issued a local permit instead.
Now that Pakistan wants wants to implement visa system, the people of Chaman are protesting against it as, according to them, Visas will not only disconnect relatives from each other but also result in loss of livelihoods for 50,000 families as they do not have any alternative means of livelihood.
According to Rafiullah Kakar, a public policy and development specialist from Balochistan and tweets, the Pakistani government is trying to exploit COVID-19 situation to forcibly implement visa regime. However, requirement of visa to cross the border is unacceptable for the locals of Chaman who have relatives and businesses across the border. Rafiullah also thinks that visas will seriously disrupt businesses for which the Government of Pakistan has no plan for compensating.
Rafiullah Kakar further said in his twitter thread, “The government of Pakistan needs to get over its insecurities reg Afghan border. Border fencing is near completion. Pashtun nationalists are part of mainstream Pak politics. It is time Pak strives for regional integration through trade. Peaceful & integrated borders will only make Pak more strong.”
“Cross-border trade has remained the primary source of livelihoods for ppl of Chaman for centuries. Requirement of visa can’t be implemented overnight. If the Govt is bent on introducing visas, it should first take steps for provision of alternative livelihood opportunities.” he added.
💬 What do you think would be in the best interest of both the countries? Should Pak government allow locals of Chaman to cross the border using local permits like they have been doing since years or implement the visa system? Let us know in the comments.