LANDI KOTAL: Transporters continue to bear the brunt of travel restrictions imposed on them by Pakistani authorities at Torkham border as nearly 6,000 loaded trucks and containers have been forced to halt their journey halfway to Afghanistan at various locations from Karachi up to the border crossing point.

Sources at the border told Dawn that at least 80 vehicles loaded with poultry had been stranded at Torkham since March 21 despite obtaining clearance from Customs authorities.

They said that drivers of those vehicles, mostly local people, didn’t possess Pakistani passports so they were denied permission to cross over to Afghanistan.

The drivers said that they kept engines of their vehicles on to keep the air-conditioners running so that the chickens could be saved from heat and suffocation.

They said that it was an additional financial burden on them as they had no idea when they would be allowed to leave for Afghanistan as rest of all the export related official formalities were already fulfilled.

About 6,000 loaded trucks forced to halt journey halfway to Afghanistan

Sources said that Frontier Corps officials were asking all the chicken loaded vehicles to go back as they feared a backlash from transporters and exporters in case of any damage to the consignment owing to prolonged delay.

The transporters, however, had refused to go back as they were already issued gate passes by the Custom authorities and a return journey ‘nowhere’ would cause them additional financial losses, they added.

The vehicles loaded with chicken were no exception to the negative effect, which possession of passport condition for all Pakistani transporters had on nearly 6,000 vehicles loaded with perishable edible items, construction material and other export goods.

Shakir Afridi, a representative of transporters, told this scribe that no prior information was given to them about imposition of new restrictions on transporters at Torkham border.

He said that thousands of loaded vehicles left Karachi port for Torkham when the reopening of borders with Afghanistan was announced by Prime Minister Main Nawaz Sharif on March 20.

“This is sheer injustice with the transporters,” said Mr Afridi. He said that they were celebrating reopening of border after more than a month but then they were forcibly stopped because they didn’t possess passports.

Criticising the new policy of showing Pakistani passport at the time of entry to Afghanistan, he said that nowhere in the world such a policy was imposed on transporters, frequenting between two neighbouring countries.

“The Afghan authorities have no objection to our entry into their country without passport and visa and instead they accept the route permits and rahdari pass issued to us by the Pakistan embassy in Kabul and by local administration respectively,” said Mr Afridi.

He said that transporters knocked at every door, pleading for temporary relaxation in the new rules but they received no encouraging response from any quarter.

Sources in the political administration also said that they had sent a number of written dispatches for a reprieve in the new rules as the policy about possession of passport for Pakistani transporters was not properly conveyed to them.

An official confided to Dawn on condition of anonymity that the new policy was implemented only at Torkham while transporters using Chaman border were not required to show their passports.

Meanwhile, hundreds of transporters, political workers and members of civil society organisations again staged a protest demonstration on Sunday to demand relaxation in travel restrictions.

Speaking on the occasion, Jamaal-i-Islami leader Murad Hussein Afridi said that the new travel restrictions were aimed at depriving local transporters of the only legitimate source of income.

He urged government to provide facilities to transporters to boost trade not only with Afghanistan but also with Central Asian States.

Abdur Raziq of PTI said that the new policy rendered thousands of local people jobless as. “The country too would suffer as it will lose millions of rupees as revenue,” he added.

Speaking on the occasion, Shakir Afridi said that he was threatened by unidentified people for supporting the affected transporters.

He said that he received telephone calls from ‘private’ numbers and the caller warned him of dire consequences if he and his fellow transporters continued to protest the new travel restrictions. Meanwhile, political administration arrested two transporters accused of forcibly snatching gate passes issued to Afghan drivers at Torkham border.

Officials said that Farhad Sultankhel and Akhtar Mohammad Nekikhel were arrested after they received complaints from Afghan drivers about snatching of gate passes by them. Both were later sent to Landi Kotal lockup.

Local transporters, however, accused the political administration of resorting to pressure tactics to force them to end their protest.

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2017