Pak-Iran Border and Baloch Traders’ Woes
The Pak-Iran trade gate, Zero-Point, is Pakistan’s only single official legal border crossing into Iran. It is 600 kilometers from the provincial capital, Quetta, situated in Taftan, a town in district Chaghi District.
Besides, the Zero-Point trade gate, Iran built a 10-feet high concrete thick wall reinforced with steel rods along its own shared border with the Balochistan province which is stretching from Taftan to Mand in Turbat district.
According to Iranian authorities, the fence is built to prevent illegal border crossings, drug trafficking, terror attacks and unlawful transportation into Iran .
It is true that largely opium, hashish, heroin and morphine etc. is all smuggled into Iran but, on the other hand, Iranian fuel is also abundantly smuggled into Pakistan.
Across the border the Baloch people are densely populated. After the construction of the fence, Iran has divided the Baloch people economically, politically, culturally and socially. That is why the Balochs in Pakistan and Iran are fully cut off from each other although they have a fundamental right to interact and mingle with each other.
Kachkol Ali Baloch, the former leader of the opposition in Balochistan Assembly, raised voice against the construction of the said fence, saying that Balochs on both sides of the border were not taken into confidence while constructing the wall. It was, he rightly argued, made against the will of the Baloch people. He had also tabled a resolution in the provincial assembly but no one in the federal government paid head to his legislative move.
Since 2003, the Iranian authorities have shut down the Zero-Point on at least four different occasions. Iran justifies its moves by citing terror attacks, bomb explosions and suicide attacks in its Balochistan province.
Jundullah, a Sunni militant group led by Abdul Malik Regi, was allegedly responsible for these attacks who, according to Iranian authorities, had sanctuaries in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. Therefore, they kept closing the Zero-Point gate each time for six to seven months, depriving the local traders and populations of their livelihood.
Incredibly, Zero-Point remained closed after the execution of Abdul Malik Regi in Iran. Traders are in utter confusion regarding the closure of Zero-Point.
Ali Raza Rind, a senior local journalist of district Chaghi, said, “Iranian authorities unilaterally decide whether to open or close the border. Neither they consult Pakistan nor do they negotiate with the local Baloch tribal chiefs while making such important decisions about the Zero-Point. Sadly, local traders are in trouble from both sides because the Frontier Corps (F.C.) personnel also compel the traders to bribe them. Consequently, the problems of local traders and people are compounding instead of decreaseing.
While in the past goods from Iran were imported in large quantities, the supply has recently declined. The Iranians have enforced very stringent regulations on the border although goods are still being exported in a large quantity in Iran from the Pakistani side of the border.
It is beyond understanding why Pakistani authorities are silent on this key issue and playing the role of a silent spectator? They should pay immediate attention to this serious issue.
As this writer spoke to an old trader at Taftan border, he said angrily, “We have been enduring harsh and strict treatment from both sides of the border authorities. Sometimes, they physically assault us without any reason. The Zero-Point gets closed due to violence inside Iran but we frequently have to bear the brunt of it over here. There is no one to seriously address this issue. ”
The residents of Taftan, on their part, are deprived of basic necessities of life. They are so poor that they often send their children to work on the border.
Mega projects like Saindak and Reko Diq, are situated a few kilometers from Taftan but these projects barely offer any benefits to the people of Balochistan.
Labors in Taftan are compelled to work all the day under the sun in return of low very wages. The labors face same hardships as the local traders and the other citizens do in Taftan border area.
It is the government’s responsibility to resolve the problems of traders and local people on priority basis so that they continue earning a livelihood without much stress.
Published in The Baloch Hal on August 1, 2012