Trade that poverty fuels

Published February 25, 2021
From the top of the Jodar mountains at the Pak-Iran border, pick-up trucks transporting oil look like crawling ants. —Photo courtesy Muhammad Akbar Notezai/File
From the top of the Jodar mountains at the Pak-Iran border, pick-up trucks transporting oil look like crawling ants. —Photo courtesy Muhammad Akbar Notezai/File

The recent crackdown on oil smuggling into Pakistan has brought to the fore the illegal transportation of fuel through the Pakistan-Iran border. Despite the crackdown, however, smuggling is continuing, simply because the locals have to earn a living.

One of the men involved in the illegal business is Zahid Baloch, who is in his 20s and hails from Balochistan’s Kharan district. Two days ago, he went all the way to the Iran border in Panjgur district to bring back diesel in his Iranian vehicle called Zamyad.

He was alone in his truck on the Iranian side at the Haqabad border point, where oil and diesel are loaded and unloaded on most days. When he had loaded blue canisters filled with diesel onto his vehicle, at about 9pm, indiscriminate firing began from the Iranian check posts. “We were present there in the hundreds. We ran for our lives, all of us,” Zahid told Dawn. Inas Baloch, who belonged to the Panjgur district, died on the spot.

“I got hit in my left leg, but kept on running, leaving behind my vehicle. But I fell to the ground after taking a few steps. My wound was bleeding,” he recalled.

Zahid has now been brought to a private room at the Al-Khair hospital in Quetta, for treatment. I met him in that room on the second floor of the hospital, situated on the Double Road.

Iranian lawmaker says three people killed in town near Pakistan border

He bore a pale look, with disheveled hair and clothes. He was still being administered pints of blood.

“How did you survive the incident?” I asked him, sipping the mango juice one of his relatives had handed over to me.

“I survived, because I played possum,” Zahid replied. “That is why I am still alive, even though my luck, like that of others, had run out.”

Senior officials, including Abdul Razzaq Sasoli, the deputy commissioner of Panjgur, claimed that a body and an injured Pakistani were handed to the local authorities by Iranian officials. But Zahid had managed to flee on his own, because he was picked up by one of his tribesmen from the Iranian part of Balochistan, to help him reach Pakistan.

“I lay injured for more than four hours, on the Iranian side. There was a Kubdani guy from my tribe, who told me to lay still so that I may be brought to Pakistan. The nearest Iranian towns were far away and I couldn’t have survived had I been taken there for treatment because I was bleeding constantly,” Zahid said.

“Along with a dead body, a sheet was brought, which was put over me and I was brought to the border. My rescuer told the Iranian officials that I was dead, as was the other person. I was playing possum all the time and was wrapped up in a sheet. After several refusals, the Iranian authorities finally allowed the ‘two bodies’ to be brought into Pakistan.”

Protests in Iran

Zahid’s story has not been covered much in Pakistan’s mainstream media. However, protesters held a huge demonstration at the district governor’s office in southeastern Iran on Tuesday, after the incident, according to sources.

Reports of a vociferous and chaotic protest at the governor’s office was confirmed by the semi-official Iranian news agency ILNA. The agency said three people had been killed over two days of clashes in the Iranian town of Saravan near the border with Pakistan.

An angry mob stormed the district governor’s office on Tuesday, a day after shootings of fuel smugglers at the border left at least two people dead, said ILNA.

The report quoted Malak Fazeli, Saravan’s representative in parliament, as saying: “As far as I know, three people lost their lives while being transferred to the hospital.”

It was unclear whether all three people were killed in the border shootings or if one of the fatalities was a result of the chaos at the district governor’s office.

Fazeli said another eight people were hospitalised with injuries but three were released. He said calm had returned to the town.

In Pakistan, officials lamented the loss of life and urged the authorities of both countries to investigate the shootings and resulting mayhem, added the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, according to Rafique, a journalist in Panjgur, his town’s economy has been dependent on smuggling of petrol and diesel from Iran since 1980s, as there are no other economic opportunities in the region. “This is the Baloch people’s source of livelihood on both sides of the border,” he added.

So far as Zahid is concerned, he has been involved in the activity for the last one year. “It’s dangerous work. But we do it out of poverty.”

Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2021

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