Pakistan Reader# 239, 26 October 2021
On 23 October, Trader’s Alliance based in the border town of Chaman called for a strike due to closure of the border by Afghanistan authorities. The border crossing has been closed off and opened irregularly in recent months giving huge losses to traders. After the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, there has been more frequent crossing of the border to Pakistan due to fear of repression and brutality of the new Taliban regime by poor communities in Afghanistan.
Chaman border is one of the two main border crossings between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the other being Torkham more commonly called Khyber-pass. Both the routes are commercial crossing for trade and daily wage labourers. The terrain and relief renders the political boundary non feasible and there is regular to and fro movement of trucks carrying fruits and other consumer goods to cater to the demands of the population on both sides. The demography as well is dominated by Pashtun tribes on either side of the border and hence the border has been fluid in terms of transit across the two countries. Pakistan had started fencing the so-called Durand Line in 2017 to avoid any unregistered movement and deal with flow of migrants and refugees. Recently the Chaman frontier especially has been developing as a route for refugees to cross into Iran as they tend to avoid the inhospitable desert lying south of Kandahar to reach Iran and beyond. However, the refugees are deported back on a daily basis who have crossed into Pakistan with aspirations to look for safer heavens and better life.
The current crisis at Chaman border crossing developed due to demands from Afghanistan to remove the requirement of passports and visas to cross the border and failure to reach a consensus compelled the closing of the border from the Afghan side, however there has been no official statement from the current Taliban regime. Both the countries have historically leveraged the political and social environments in each other largely through three methods, refugees, transit and terrorism. Pakistan has been hosting around 3 million refugees since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, there are generations in Pakistan who have grown up alongside with their Afghan refugee friends.
As much as 97.1 per cent of total Afghan exports are concentrated in Asian countries and Pakistan takes the second highest amount of exports (34.5 per cent) next to India (47.5 per cent). When export trade of fresh fruits and vegetables is hampered due to border closures, a large number of people associated with trade logistics receive most at the receiving end. Around 50,000 traders are bearing the loss of around USD 6 lakh each day due to the recent closing of the Chaman border, rearing humanitarian crises in various forms like hunger crises, increased food prices and refugee crises. On top of this Pakistan has been extending the deadline for Afghan refugees to go back to their native country, this has pushed the Afghan residents to relocate themselves to other side of the border.
There has certainly been a lack of confidence and mutual trust on the part of authorities to resume the normalization of trade and movement. Pakistan is not a signatory of Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, enabling Pakistan to be less accountable in its policies for refugee rehabilitation and welfare. Afghanistan is the gateway to Central Asia for Pakistan, the current closing and opening of borders have shown that both the regimes are testing each other and there is effort by both sides to have better leverages. One however must not forget the plight of masses who have traditionally been popular across both sides of the border, all that is required in creativity and innovation to gloss through leverages and pass on minimum damage to masses living on both sides of the porous border.
Ehtasham Mufti, “Pak-Afghan border closure hits hard 50,000 traders,” The Express Tribune, 25 October 2021
Manan Aslam, “The future of Pak-Afghan trade,” Dawn, 25 October 2021
“Strike against closure of Chaman border,” The Express Tribune, 23 October 2021
Zabihullah Jahanmal, “Pakistan Entries Closed, Afghan Pomegranates Spoil,” Tolo News, 23 October 2021