QUETTA/GWADAR: In the initial days of Ramazan, I was on a trip to the Pakistan-Iran border region, amid the soaring temperatures. There was not a single vehicle I could hire to return to Quetta. This is why I had to hitch a ride on a blue Zambad vehicle (a pickup truck) filled with oil canisters — our journey of over 300km was through katcha and dusty roads.
Due to the tough journey, I was not fasting while both the driver of the Zambad vehicle and its cleaner were fasting. There were three bottles wrapped up in wet cloth to keep the water relatively cool. In the middle of the journey, the harsh weather forced the driver to break his fast, by drinking from one of the bottles. He had not taken anything at Sehri apart from a few sips of water from one of the bottles at the border. “The Almighty will forgive me for breaking my fast,” he said. “He knows I could no longer bear it. At the same time, it is just the midday, and there five more hours before iftari.”
I laughed, teasing him a bit. Soon, upon reaching one of the places where there was cellular network, I read on my mobile phone the news of passing away of three Zambad drivers at the Pakistan-Iran border due to starvation and thirst in the holy month of Ramazan.
Taken aback, I shared the news with my two fellow travellers. Their faces changed colour. “That is what our fate has become now,” said the driver, adding: “We consider neither starvation nor thirst, nor any other challenges, for earning two meals a day. That is what we have to pay price for.”
We were now at a highway. A few days ago, at the same highway, a Zambad collided with a tanker. All three men in the blue vehicle burnt to death, while in another incident, in which Zambad vehicles collided with each other in the same area, they miraculously survived.
Their vehicles had turned over. But they did not catch fire, out of sheer luck. “We are sitting in a moving bomb,” the driver added. “It can explode anytime. A hungry stomach, however, can help you forget anything that is detrimental to one’s life.”
Like the driver I travelled with, the three drivers too had gone to the Pakistan-Iran border region to earn a livelihood. But unfortunately, their condition deteriorated due to non-availability of food and water, after being strained in the border region of Makran with Iran. One of the family members of Fazal Baloch, the victim, spoke to Dawn correspondent Behram Baloch based in Gwadar, saying they faced acute shortage due to the closure of border on our side. This is why they could not travel back into their country, stranded on the other side of the border, in Iran.
Ghulam Baloch belongs to the Gohrag Bagh town, a remote area situated at Pakistan-Iran border in Makran division. One of the victims is Bakshullah. He hails from the same area. Narrating his ordeal with Dawn, he recalls he had asthma. This is why it further worsened his condition, while starvation did the rest of the damage to his life. “He was pronounced dead in the Abdoi area,” he told Dawn.
Background interviews with traders and locals based in Makran suggest there are still hundreds of Zambad drivers stuck at Pakistan-Iran border. In this regard, when contacted, Balochistan government spokesperson Liaqat Shahwani told Dawn that Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan will take up the matter with the federal government, as well as will try to resolve the issue at the border soon.
It is interesting to note that the border trade between Pakistan-Iran borders in the Balochistan province has been taking place for over several decades. A major chunk of population in Balochistan is dependent economically on the trade with Iran. But the border fencing with Iran is now squeezing them economically.
Based in Kech district, Gulzar Dost Baloch is the general secretary of the Border Trade Union. He has accompanied the coffins from the border to their hometowns in Kech district. He has a lot to say about the worst conditions these Zambad drivers have been going through at the border side. “Unlike the previous times, the situation for these oil/diesel transporters has become worse as a result of restrictions they face at different checkpoints,” he points out, adding: “This is why the queue continues to expand around these checkpoints, let alone the border area. Hence, Zambad vehicles have to stand up in dried up rivers, plain areas, mountainous places, and desolate areas as they cannot move back due to traffic that becomes jammed. It empties their little ration, say, water and food. That is what happened to the ill-fated three drivers.”
Coming back to Fazal Baloch, his family further shared with Dawn that he had gone to the border so that he could buy new clothes for his children on Eid. Instead, they added, he was taken to the graveyard in a new coffin he was shrouded in, after bringing back home.
Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2021