AS Badini is an old route, it used to be the abode of passing Pashtun tribal nomads in the old days. At the time one of the nomads was Badin as I am told by the locals who live in the remote town. This is why the place was named Badini, as many places in Balochistan are named after people. Today it makes up a huge, dried kind of a valley on both sides of the fenced Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
Comprising several tiny villages, Badini not only lacks power supply or cellular network but also basic necessities of life. Interestingly, it used to be lively after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, as a tiny bazaar had sprung up here following the arrival of Afghans, including the refugees.
One of the Afghans was Mullah Abdul Salam Rocketi, locals recall. Born in Zabul province in Afghanistan bordering Badini, Rocketi was a former Mujahideen commander. As he was famous for firing rocket-propelled grenade at the time of Afghan war with Soviet Union, he became known as “rocketi”. He settled in Badini, in the early 1980s, after fleeing from Afghanistan.
With the arrival of Aghans, Badini was one of the points where informal trade took place with Afghanistan, and it grew exponentially. “Like other crossing points across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the Soviet war brought the informal trade in Badini,” recalls Lala Nizamuddin Kakar, a clean-shaven Pashtun tribal elder from Badini. Wearing a black silver weskit over shalwar-kameez and a rounded white Peshawari cap, he says: “At that time, among other things, one could get a Russian tractor for just Rs15,000. There was anything one could get at throwaway prices.”
Today, the once lively bazaar of Badini is abandoned.
In Badini, which is situated just 8km from the main border point, there is one National Bank of Pakistan branch, one Pakistan Customs office and one Frontier Corps wing for the border security.
With the completion of the Pak-Afghan border fencing work, during my recent conversations with officials, I have got to understand it that border points, including the Badini, have been opening to start over some economic activities for the border people, in the form of formal trade, to earn a livelihood. In this context, Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan during the opening ceremony of the terminal for the trade in Badini with Afghanistan said it “would boost economic activities and create job opportunities for the local people”.
Like their Baloch counterparts, local Pashtuns in Balochistan’s Killa Saifullah district are living in dark ages. There is rampant poverty, and whatever income is generated is from the informal border trade with Afghanistan. As for locals in Badini, due to yet lack of business activities, many of them go to work as coalminers in Balochistan’s coalmines or, in the words of Lala Nizam Kakar, some others load and unload trucks and pickups at the border, now.
“One of the reasons to open the Badini trade terminal is to legalise the trade, as well as it can be used to uplift the economic standard of the border people in Badini and elsewhere in the district,” said Dr Atiq Shahwani, who was the deputy commissioner of Killa Saifullah when the initiative was launched. “We obtained 500 acres of land in Badini for the establishment of a market over there.”
It is interesting to note Badini trade terminal is at a shorter distance to Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa than Chaman border in the same northern belt of Balochistan. Welcoming the trade terminal in Badini, traders’ leader in Quetta Abdul Rahim Kakar advocates opening of more trade terminals at border points to encourage trade with neighbouring countries. “In the future, it (Badini) can be connected to CPEC’s western route which is near and feasible for trade with Afghanistan in regard to the Punjab province,” he believed.
Columnist and journalist Jalal Noorzai who has written on Pakistan-Afghanistan affairs a lot echoes a broader claim that China has been pushing Pakistan to open trade routes with landlocked Afghanistan with regard to CPEC so much so Pakistan is establishing 12 border markets at Afghan border and six markets at Iran border. But Badini, unlike other bordering towns, has not been given the importance by the government till date, Mr Noorzai regrets, adding that it does not have a road let alone other facilities.
The tiresome journey from Quetta, the provincial capital, to Badini border town takes more than five hours due to the pitiable condition of the road, which at some places is barely passable. Badini is around 120km from Muslim Bagh tehsil in Killa Saifullah district. To reach the border town one has to pass through mountainous areas. As a whole the infrastructure is quite week, there is hardly traffic in the desolate mountain areas.
“So far dry fruits, uranium and scrap are exported from Afghanistan through the Badini trade terminal, while fruits, vegetables, and other goods are imported,” Lala Nizamuddin told me over a cup of milk tea. “Since 2006 the Custom’s office is established in Badini, the office-bearers do not stay a lot in the border town due to its remoteness and lack of proper activities. This is why they clear 50 vehicles in a weak to load and unload.”
With the opening of Badini trade terminal, locals are in a state of bliss, in the hope of reaping benefits from the trade with Afghanistan. Yet it lacks the basic infrastructure and in the words of Lala Nizam, it may take several years to make the trade terminal functional for generating some economic activities. If the government ignores it, he warns, it may continue to remain abandoned.
Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2021