Porters reeling under strict restrictions at Torkham border

Published December 6, 2021
Porters wait for clients near the Torkham border crossing. — Dawn
Porters wait for clients near the Torkham border crossing. — Dawn

KHYBER: Mussawir Khan, 15, twice had his dreams shattered, first when he abandoned his education a year ago to take up the laborious job of a porter at Torkham border in order to augment his family’s meagre earnings and then when the border authorities restricted his frequent cross-border movement by making acquisition of visa mandatory for thousands of daily wagers and porters like him.

He said that his daily earnings dropped considerably from Rs1,200 to a mere Rs200 or Rs300 per day after restriction on movement of daily wagers and porters due to imposition of coronavirus SOPs and condition of visa.

Workers ask authorities to devise a convenient mechanism for their cross-border movement

Mussawir Khan and his father, a health worker affiliated with polio vaccination, jointly look after their family of 10, though with much difficulties with their hard-earned meager resources.

Tilawat Khan, 54, another daily wager working at Torkham border for nearly 35 years, pointed his anger at National Logistic Cell (NLC) staffers, accusing them of not allowing them to freely move across the border without legal travel documents. He also has one of his arms handicapped.

He said that nobody else, neither the Afghan border officials nor the Pakistani immigration staff or the security forces, had questioned their credentials except for NLC. “The NLC staffers not only hamper our movement but also use force to stop us from carrying out our daily labour in the name of travel documents,” he alleged.

“Life has also become very difficult for us after the recent hike in prices of daily use items, which also coincided with loss of our jobs due to restrictions on our movement on both sides of the border,” Tilawat Khan, a father of nine, told this scribe in a grim voice.

Pakistan closed its borders with Iran and Afghanistan on May 8 for pedestrians to prevent transmission of coronavirus into the country. However, bilateral trade with these neighboring countries continued, though with health-related restrictions.

Torkham border was later reopened for pedestrian movement on October 21 after a drop in coronavirus cases but restrictions on nearly 8,000 labourers remained intact as they were asked to acquire legal travel documents for their day-to-day cross-border movement.

Most of these daily wagers and porters belong to the nearby villages and towns. The residents of these localities have been running their small time businesses and carrying out different menial jobs as they have no other sources of income.

Pakistan and Afghanistan had up till recent past informally exempted residents on both sides of the border from visa or any other travel documents while these people capitalised only on the national identity cards of their respective countries and temporary tokens issued to them by National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) for moving on both sides of Torkham, a fact acknowledged even by the security and immigration officials at the border.

Officials said that the facility to freely move across the border was informally extended to local tribes under the internationally recognised ‘easement rights policy’ which allowed people residing near the border to cross the border on multiple occasions and stay within a certain distance of the border rather than going deep into any side of the border.

Zakir Umar, a spokesman for the labourers, told this scribe that he had never witnessed such a worse situation for daily wagers and porters during his 25 years of association with part time cross-border occupation.

He said that for the past few decades, CNIC, Afghan Tazkira and Nadra tokens were a sure ‘passport’ for frequent cross-border mobility for thousands of local and Afghan labourers. “Not only we have personal occupations on both sides of the border, but also have family relations on both sides and thus imposing visa restriction on these people is unjustified and against basic human rights,” he added.

Mr Umar demanded of the ministry of interior, corps commander Peshawar and officials of the local administration to devise a convenient mechanism for restoration of their cross-border movement and revival of the much sought after menial jobs in order to augment their daily meagre earnings.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2021

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