In pursuit of paradise on earth

Published August 28, 2021
A GROUP of people who were arrested in Iran and handed over to Pakistani authorities.
A GROUP of people who were arrested in Iran and handed over to Pakistani authorities.

ABDUL Ghaffar, a Tehsildar (local official), was recently posted to Nushki, a town south-west of Quetta.

The N-40 highway, locally known as Quetta-Taftan highway, runs from Lakpass, Quetta, to Taftan, a town on the border with Iran. This route is used by Pakistanis, most of them from Punjab, for going to Iran.

They travel on pick-ups, buses, and cars to those towns in western Balochistan that border on Iran.

Ghaffar was transferred to Nushki from Chaghi, one of the largest districts in terms of area in the country.

One day he flagged down a blue Zamyad vehicle, locally known as Zambad, at Galangoor checkpost, on the Quetta-Taftan highway. The vehicle was jampacked with around 20 people. A mat was spread over their heads.

This checkpost at Galangoor, a mountainous place in Nushki district, is one of the most notorious points manned by the Levies. But this time the place offers a piece of good news.

The Zambad was decorated in the manner of cars and vans carrying bridal parties. But the decoration, music and beating of drums were not enough to throw the Levies personnel off the scent. Tehsildar Ghaffar suddenly noticed there were no women in the vehicle.

“How can a bridal party consist exclusively of men,” he wondered aloud. “Chase it,” he shouted to his colleagues. They caught up with the vehicle after five kilometres or so and rounded up the 20 people from Punjab who intended to cross into Iran illegally.

A number of human smugglers were among them. But for Ghaffar this was nothing new. He had caught such vehicles in the past, too.

The humble Tehsildar, a man of substance, takes pride in his work even though he has accumulated very little by way of worldly possessions.

“Unlike other Tehsildars in my province, I still do not own a bungalow in Quetta,” he says boastfully.

Paradise on earth

The story of people from Punjab trying to enter Iran illegally through Balochistan in search of paradise in Europe is heart-rending nevertheless.

During my stint as a reporter in Lahore, I used to hear endless accounts from my colleagues about people risking their life and limb to set foot on the soil of a European country.

Sultan Afridi is a retired assistant director of the Federal Investigation Agency. He headed the FIA’s anti-human smuggling operation a number of times.

Under his command, the agency cracked down on the human smuggling racket. In one instance, they arrested 18 agents.

Speaking to Dawn, he credits three former FIA chiefs for the successful operations: Tariq Khosa, Tariq Pervez and Mohib Assad. All of them, according to him, deserve praise for putting the FIA on the right track.

“Within a short span of time, we crushed the network of human smugglers by arresting 18 notorious agents following complaints of an alarming rise in illegal emigration,” he recalled. “The arrival of illegal immigrants from Pakistan in European countries was bringing bad name to the country.”

In 2002, former president Pervez Musharraf had promulgated the Prevention and Control of Human Smuggling Ordinance.

A clause of the ordinance read: “Whoever plans or executes any plan for human trafficking into or out of the country for attaining any benefit, exploitative entertainment, slavery, forced labour or adoption would be punished with imprisonment of up to seven years and fine.”

During a visit to an FIA-run detention centre in Taftan, I spoke to Sajjad, who was caught in Iran during a clampdown on illegal immigrants. According to him, the Iranian security officials thrashed him mercilessly, breaking his left hand.

“My destination was Spain as a number of my relatives and acquaintances have settled down there,” he said. “My family paid for my travel and other expenses.”

According to an FIA official, once an individual from a village or a small town manages to cross into a European country, he becomes a role model for others back home.

Some guesstimates put the number of illegal immigrants handed over by the Iranian authorities every year to Pakistan at 10,000-12,000.

Mr Afridi described the racket as a “consent offence” because no smuggling can happen without the consent of both parties.

Published in Dawn, August 28th, 2021

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