Making money out of misery

Published August 19, 2021
AFGHANS arrive in Pakistan after fleeing Afghanistan.
AFGHANS arrive in Pakistan after fleeing Afghanistan.

IN Naukundi, a dusty town in Chaghi district, human smuggler Aslam’s mobile phone rings incessantly. He spends most of his time over Whatsapp on his Samsung mobile.

Although his mother tongue is Balochi, he is fluent in Dari, the official language of Afghanistan. But since he speaks it with a Balochi accent, his Dari sounds more like Balochi than Dari.

His human smuggling racket has seen a boom since the takeover of Afghanistan’s major cities by the Taliban.

“Seven of my vehicles left Afghanistan for Pakistan this afternoon,” he tells Dawn hurriedly. “There is no dearth of people coming from Afghanistan these days.”

Like Aslam, other human smugglers operating in towns bordering Iran and Afghanistan are preoccupied.

I tried to make calls to my old acquaintances in the business, but all numbers were either “powered off” or “busy on another call”.

While travelling with Afghan immigrants in recent years, I found that all of them were desperate to leave their homeland. The common refrain was ‘insecurity’.

Their despondency has grown after the developments of the past fortnight. After arriving in Pakistan, most Afghans heave a sigh of relief. Asif is a young jobless Baloch. With the surge in immigrants arrival, he too has set his sights on entering the human smuggling racket in Chaghi district.

“Over the months, the number of Afghans entering Pakistan has grown manifold,” he said while speaking to Dawn by phone. “I want to make hay while the sun shines.”

The deteriorating situation in their country has pushed Afghans to flee to Balochistan in droves. The Chaman-Spin Boldak border crossing is the second busiest entry point for Afghans flocking to Pakistan.

Yousaf, a Tajik from Mazar-i-Sharif, took the same route to enter Pakistan before settling down in Quetta.

“Afghans are in a state of anxiety and shock following the abrupt Taliban takeover,” Yousaf said. “The strife has made them homeless within their own country. Life has gone back to the bad old days of the 1990s.”

The Hazara serve as a good example of the endless cycle of misery that has pursued the Afghan nation over the last four decades.

They faced persecution during the Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001. So it seems their worst nightmare has come true.

Homelessness beckons them yet again. They have no other option but to take one last look at their homes and begin the trudge south towards their veritable second home — Quetta.

Government officials on this side of the border say they have not housed them in camps this time, taking a leaf from the Iranians’ book. But they may be housed in camps if their number increases, according to government officials.

But the ground reality tells otherwise. Sources in the provincial law department agreed in private conversation that it was simply impossible to adopt the Iranian model in Balochistan.

“The Hazara cannot be confined to camps because they have relatives in Balochistan who have been living here since the 1980s,” one official said. But another official said the administration would consider the camp option if the influx became unmanageable.

“We have even shortlisted the towns to house the Afghan refugees. Badini, Chaman and Chaghi are some of the places that are likely to figure in such plans,” he confided to Dawn.

But he did not foresee Hazaras arriving in big numbers. Qaiser Khan Afridi, a spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office in Pakistan, was all praise for the government and the people of Pakistan for hosting millions of displaced Afghans.

“The UNHCR hopes that Pakistan will keep up its hospitality in case of new arrivals,” he added. “We will extend our support to the government and respond immediately to any plea for assistance. But we haven’t, thanks God, seen any exodus from Afghanistan so far.”

According to Mr Afridi, a major influx would require the international community to step up assistance to both Afghanistan and its neighbours.

“Violence and insecurity have forced some 550,000 Afghans to flee the country this year. It must be kept in mind that 65 per cent population of Afghanistan comprises children and young people,” he said. The Pakistani authorities started fencing their side of the border with Afghanistan a long time ago in order to stop the arrival of Afghan nationals.

Dr Shah Mohammad Marri, a Quetta-based author, edits Sangat, a literary magazine. He has translated the works of distinguished Afghan writers into Balochi.

According to him, the migration of Afghans to Balochistan has been going on since ancient times.

But the province can no longer cope with the arrival in view of its meagre resources, Dr Marri observed.

“The infrastructure and business have crumbled under the weight,” he concluded.

Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2021

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