DEVELOPMENT: GATEWAY TO PROGRESS?

Published April 11, 2021
The Badini Trade Terminal on the Pak-Afghan border | Photos by the writer
The Badini Trade Terminal on the Pak-Afghan border | Photos by the writer

Spread over an area of 347,190 sq kilometres, forming 43.6 percent of the land mass of the country, Balochistan has a long coastline, and wide borders with Iran and Afghanistan, with its population dispersed in small clusters. This has often been used as the excuse for a lack of development in the province.

Adjacent to Muslim Bagh tehsil of Qila Saifullah district, the Badini Trade Terminal was opened in September last year for trade with Afghanistan. This is the second nub after the Chaman gateway on the Pak-Afghan border. There is also the functional trade terminal at Taftan on the Pak-Iran border.

Sporting a traditional Pashtun turban while addressing the inaugural ceremony, Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Alyani expressed hope that the opening of the Badini Trade Terminal would not only boost economic activities in the region, but also create job opportunities for the locals dwelling along the Pak-Afghan border.

But 60-year-old Haji Abdul Sattar Shahizai, a notable from the area is still sceptical as Badini is a dried-up valley comprising many small villages, where a population of around 20,000 lives without power and a mobile network, some eight kilometres from the border point.

“International trade across the border is meaningless for us in the absence of basic amenities of life such as health and education,” he says. “Despite Badini’s strategic and geographical importance, the residents haven’t had access to clean drinking water, electricity, communication and roads for decades. The entire stretch from Tarkha to Sarai area lacks any development. If someone falls ill, we have to take them to Qila Saifullah Civil Hospital, which costs us thousands of rupees. Not just that, because of poor road conditions, many expectant mothers have died on the way to the hospital.”

Will the opening of the Badini Trade Terminal on the Pak-Afghan border change the lives of the neglected people of Badini?

Shahizai also laments that thousands of acres of land remains uncultivated because of the apathy and negligence of the provincial government and elected representatives. “We have no facilities to level the arid land and grow crops,” he says.

Two years ago, Ehsanullah Jalalzai, a 35-year-old teacher, quit his job at a Loralai seminary and returned to Killi Haji Khwazhay to teach the children of his own village. Killi Haji Khwazhay is a village in union council Badini, comprising mud houses where children don’t go to school. The state-owned primary school building is in a dilapidated condition; it was constructed in 1988 but no classes ever took place in it in three decades. “Cracks have appeared in its roof and floor but concerned authorities have never shown any interest,” says Jalalzai.

Girls filling water at a karez water source
Girls filling water at a karez water source

“I set up a school in my house through self-help,” he recalls. “When the school bell rang for the first time, it was a historical moment to see excited children arriving. Eventually, children from adjacent villages also started coming and soon the number of both boys and girls reached almost one hundred. But unfortunately, because of poverty and non-availability of resources, I had no option but to close down the school. Neither the government supported me, neither could the villagers continually provide money for schooling. Instead they would send their children for grazing animals or to fetch water.”

From 2013 to 2018, the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP) — which had a major part in the coalition government in Balochistan — provided a solar water supply scheme to Killi Haji Khwazhay, which addressed the water shortage to some extent. But Jalalzai says the rest of the Badini area still suffers from a water shortage.

The one basic health unit in Badini has been closed for a long time. “Polio teams visit the facility to administer anti-polio drops to children, but no doctor has been posted here nor medicines are available,” says Jalalzai. “Since there is no mobile tower in Badini, people have to travel almost 20 kilometres to make a phone call.”

Hassan Khan, father of five and a resident of Malik Ibrahim Khan, a village surrounded by dry mountains in Badini, points out that there is not a single school in the entire area.

 “Previously, I used to work in coal-mines as a daily wager because there were no other work opportunities available here,” says Khan. “The opening of the Badini Trade Terminal has not yet changed my life because it is closed for ordinary people to walk through for trade purposes, as they do on the Chaman gateway. We should be allowed to cross the Pak-Afghan border for trade purposes, so we also can earn a living.”

There is plenty of potential. If the arid land of Badini could be levelled with bulldozers and a solar system installed for irrigation, it could be ideal for growing wheat, tobacco, almonds and fruit, including apples.

A government-run primary school building in a dilapidated condition in Badini
A government-run primary school building in a dilapidated condition in Badini

Also, since Badini serves as the liaison between Zhob division, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), industrial goods from Punjab and KP can reach Afghanistan and Central Asian countries within hours now instead of days. From Lahore to Chaman, a freight truck that covers 1000km in 16 hours will now cover 600km from Lahore to Badini in just 10 hours.

Setting up processing units in Zhob and Qila Saifullah could facilitate vegetables, fruits and other commodities to reach Central Asia through the Badini gateway via Afghanistan. Reservoirs of precious stones and coal in the border areas could also access factories in Punjab. In addition, workshops for vehicle maintenance, hotels and petrol stations would directly benefit the local population.

However, when contacted to discuss these issues in light of the inauguration of the terminal, Balochistan assembly MPA Maulana Noorullah Khuidadzai did not wish to comment.

According to the Balochistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (BCCI), the previous closure of the Pak-Afghan border had resulted in massive financial losses to imports and exports between the two countries. The BCCI estimates that Balochistan Customs is already generating revenue of 30 billion rupees annually from trade. The Badini trade route could promote trade between Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia, increase the country’s exports and save foreign exchange.

According to the former BCCI senior vice president Badruddin Kakar, although seven districts of Balochistan — Quetta, Qila Abdullah, Qila Saifullah, Pishin, Zhob, Noshki and Chaghai — share borders with Afghanistan on the 1100 km-long Balochistan-Afghanistan border, previously only the Chaman gateway was being used for Afghan transit trade, NATO supplies and the transportation of people to and from Afghanistan. The opening of the Badini route could ease pressure on Chaman as well.

During his visit to Zhob in November last year, Balochistan Governor Amanullah Yasinzai had said that the Qamardin gateway in Zhob district would also be opened for trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan, once peace talks between Afghan government and the Taliban materialised.

The central government has also decided to set up 18 markets on the Pak-Afghan and Pak-Iran borders, out of which 12 markets will be built along the Afghan border and six along the Iranian border. These markets are expected to not only provide better trade opportunities to the people living along the border areas but to also curb cross-border smuggling.

Badini may have been neglected so far as, unlike other border towns, it has not been given much importance by the government and the locals still live a hard and primitive life. But with development coming in and trade flourishing, they could be the first beneficiaries of the Badini trade terminal. Hopefully, trade will be followed not only by employment opportunities being created, but also progress in the area’s health, education, livestock, agriculture and other sectors.

The writer is a Balochistan-based journalist. He can be reached at rafiullah.
mandokhail@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, EOS, April 11th, 2021

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