Exclusive: Why Are The Baloch Being Subjected To Further Restrictions In Trade?

Exclusive: Why Are The Baloch Being Subjected To Further Restrictions In Trade?
Makuran is an important strategic division of Balochistan, Pakistan, as it is located on the Iranian border in the west. According to the recent census, it is populated by around ten (10) lac of Turbat Population.  It has recently been given the administrative name of "South Balochistan" by the government. It consists of three districts including Turbat, Gwadar and Panjgur border with neighbouring Iran.

The livelihood of the people here is mostly dependent on border trade and people have been informally importing food items, energy and fuel including diesel from Iran for the past several decades. There was a time when the entrepreneurs associated with the border were among the most prosperous citizens of the province.

The price of imported Iranian fuel per litre was 50% lower than that of Pakistani fuel across Balochistan including Makran. But now the government and the administration have started tightening the border issues which has caused problems to arise. Until three years ago, there were no restrictions on crossing the border; everyone was able to trade freely without hindrance.

But now the situation is that in view of security, all vehicles going to the border have to be registered and every vehicle owner has to wait for his number to go to the border, which comes once a month. Now the poor living in the border area, whose stove was run by the earnings of trade activity are facing difficulties in their daily life.

The difficulties of the people associated with border trade are increasing and they are holding the administration responsible for them. The livelihood of thousands of people here depends on the border and if the closure and restriction continues like this, there will be an increase in the number of poor people and unemployment may increase in unrest as it happened in the past.

The Friday Times  asked the leaders of the border trade union and Haq Du Tehreek member Yaqoob Baloch Jusaki about how border trade can be made more effective, what mechanisms should be there to benefit the common people and what measures were being taken to protect people involved in the border trade.  “At the moment, six hundred ZAMYAD vehicles are being listed at the District level, out of which permission should be given on a daily basis, but under the auspices of the district administration, another five hundred vehicles go from other districts, while only a few local people are here," said Yaqood. Some wait for months for their turn. In a report Yaqoob claimed that the vehicles of other districts cross the border by paying extorted amounts under the auspices of Assistant Commissioner (AC) in Tump, local facilitators and the district administration.

Jusaki further spoke about how previously, people associated with the border had protested against the closure of various crossing points in the district of Kech, and then the district administration forcibly ended their sit-in by beating them up and registering an FIR against the 6th protestors. He further said that the Deputy Commissioner Kech himself had said that no vehicle other than the registered and listed will be allowed to go to the border, but vehicles from other districts are going.

Consequently, Jusaki took a stand and said that they demand that all the crossing points of Kech-Turbat district should be opened and no listing or token be required. As per him, the CNIC is the biggest token and identification for those who wish to cross the border. Anyone wishing to cross the border should go to the relevant crossing point and register himself at the same time and submit their CNIC. He further spoke on how there should be no ban on anything except arms and drugs at the border and urged that the administration should fulfil its administrative responsibilities by making border affairs more efficient and allow poor people to do trade and work freely.

TFT spoke to a 33 year-old educated vehicle owner, who recently completed his master's degree in geology from the University of Balochistan, and who was active in the border trade. "It is a very painful labour, there are many restrictions, education compared to a normal labourer. A successful young man faces more difficulties while doing this. It hurts to carry a barrel of diesel on our shoulders while being highly educated. We remember our dreams formed during our university days. We may have never thought about these days, but this is a social reality here, now the educated class is stuck in the heart of unemployment and has no choice," he said.

"Due of unemployment, they don't even want to think that being an educated person spends many days and nights in the hills and rivers, but the problem is that we are not allowed to work freely. We feel humiliated step by step, we leave home in the morning, we reach the entry point in the evening, there is a random queue of hundreds of vehicles, we crawl slowly, the next day we get a 'token' with great difficulty. After that, there is another queue, then you go and cross the border. When one is dealt with, we quickly find a generator because that is the only way to transfer diesel from one vehicle to another. After loading the diesel, one has to stand in a queue at the exit gate once again. If free movement is allowed, this entire journey can be done in a day, but with many unnecessary roadblocks, the same laborious journey is turned into weeks even under normal conditions. If by chance the car breaks down, you may have to spend ten days there, because there is no workshop etc, hardly anyone can help you," he added.

In this regard, a local journalist Asad Ullah Baloch shared his views to and spoke about how there are two contradicting narratives regarding the border. "One opinion of the majority is closer to the Haq Du Tehreek and they have been complaining to the district administration that border tokens are being sold. The local business community believes that vehicles from outside the District cross the border under the auspices of the concerned administration, which is hurting the local business community, “ said Baloch in a report.

Another group called “Border Committee” is in a friendly relationship with the concerned administration, and from time to time they also make rallies in their favour.

“If Dasht Kapkpar, Zamran and other ancient crossing points are opened for the trade, the burden will be reduced.  If this happens, At least the Haq Du Tehreek will not have the justification to protest at least in Kech-Turbat district, as its second biggest defendant along with the missing persons is the corruption of the administration at the border, which is largely true," said Asad Baloch.

“Before the current management set-up, there may not have been so many irregularities; the management is now heavily accused of selling tokens directly, though few people may have evidence of this, but some viral videos of the gaudy drivers' mouths. Allegations of crossing the border by buying tokens can be presented as evidence," continued Baloch.

In this regard when Assistant commissioner at Tump was been asked for comments, he refused to comment. "All  matters are dealt with at the DC's office," he said. Upon reaching out to the Deputy commissioner Turbat - Kech for a comment, there was no response.

However, the former Federal Minister and Member National Assembly Mrs. Zubaida Jalal was more open about sharing her thoughts.  "There are two borders we are talking about where we have custom station and all stuff coming in from Afghanistan or Iran are duty paid and vice versa. Then second one is the informal one where diesel and petrol comes from Iran. Mand, Buleda Jalagi and Kapkapar in Dasth, the Kech District are opening up."

Gohram Aslam Baloch, Balochistan based writer, covering Balochistan Soci-political and its confilict. Tweets: @GohramAslamB