QUETTA: Eleven days have gone by with all physical activities frozen at the Dosti Gate (Friendship Gate) on the Afghan border in Chaman and the worst effect of the situation has been the halt of Afghan families’ return to their motherland under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) voluntary programme.
The gate was closed when Afghans protesting on their side of the border raised anti-Pakistan slogans, burnt a Pakistani flag and pelted security personnel with stones.
However, Afghan authorities did nothing to quell the situation, nor did they apologise even though Pakistan lodged a strong protest and demanded an apology over the torching of the flag.
Traders opt for Torkham crossing amid standoff
Hundreds of trucks loaded with tonnes of goods, including perishable items, and thousands of people are stranded on both sides of the border. Even those wanting to cross on foot and in possession of valid travel documents are not allowed to enter either country.
Border authorities and UNHCR sources in Quetta told Dawn that the repatriation of Afghan refugees had been halted after the incident.
Refugees living in Balochistan were not as perturbed as those showing up from Karachi and other parts of Sindh, a UNHCR official said.
UNHCR spokesperson Duniya Aslam Khan said the number of Afghan refugees wishing to return under the voluntary programme through the Chaman-Spin Boldak border had dwindled considerably within a week.
People making it from Sindh were being asked to monitor the border situation before embarking upon the journey, she added.
On an average, 13 families were reporting on a daily basis before the border closure, she said.
Around 4,600 Afghans have been repatriated this year.
Officials said the government had been informed of the minutes of flag meetings held between Pakistani and Afghan officials and now it was up to the authorities in Islamabad to decide about opening the border.
Meanwhile, sources in the Pak-Afghan Joint Chamber of Commerce, Quetta Chamber of Commerce and Industries and Chaman Chamber of Commerce said that traders and containers loaded with Nato supplies had started moving towards Torkham border to enter Afghanistan.
“No one will be allowed to burn our national flag and use derogatory language against our country,” a Pakistani official deployed at the border gate in Chaman said.
Official sources said that high-ups of border forces of the two countries were in contact and dialogue over the issues was under way.
Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2016