QUETTA: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), while expressing its concerns over the protest sit-in of trade and business community at the border town of Chaman continuing for the last five months, has suggested immediate engagement with the affected communities, all stakeholders and Afghan representatives through dialogue and diplomacy to resolve the issue.

In a fact-finding report issued on Tuesday, the HRCP said that efforts should be made to enhance economic opportunities in Balochistan, particularly in the Chaman district, through investment in local industries, job creation and support for small traders, as this could mitigate the impact of border restrictions on livelihoods.

It said that humanitarian considerations must be kept in view when formulating policy, and the government should prioritise the well-being of individuals and families, especially those with cross-border ties, ensuring that their basic needs and rights are respected and upheld.

The report recommended that balancing national security interests with the legitimate needs of the local population was essential and steps should be taken to address concerns related to smuggling and security while minimising adverse effects on the daily lives of residents.

Fact-finding report suggests engaging affected communities, Afghan officials

While suggesting the long-term solutions, it was recommended that addressing the root causes of economic hardship and border tensions would require sustained efforts, including measures to promote sustainable development, cross-border cooperation, and good governance.

An HRCP team led a fact-finding mission to Chaman to ascertain the impact of the border control restrictions on the local population, and to examine the protest being held in opposition to the new policies. The mission comprised Kashif Panezai (vice-chair HRCP Balochistan), Fareed Ahmed (staff member), and HRCP members Shamsul Mulk Mandokhail and Abdul Manan.

The fact-finding exercise was supplemented by subsequent research.

ToRs, demands

The mission’s terms of reference were to analyse the key demands of the protesters; investigate the legal basis for the passport and visa requirements at the Pak-Afghan border; examine the socioeconomic conditions of the people in Chaman and the potential impact of the proposed immigration controls on their lives.

In a meeting with the organisers of the prolonged sit-in, the mission ascertained the key demands of the protesters.

Abdul Manan Akhund, a member of the sit-in’s organising committee, told the mission they wanted abolition of the passport and visa requirement for locals, restoration of small traders’ welfare packages, and an end to the crackdown on Afghan refugees. He said all the small traders were more willing to pay their taxes to the government than paying bribes to the local administration and personnel of the paramilitary force at checkpoints.

Ameer Mohammad, who is leading the ongoing sit-in at Bab-i-Dosti, Chaman, said his inherited land had been divided by the border fence, leaving more than a hundred acres in Afghan territory.

He said he had been assured at the time of fencing that he would have no problem accessing the lands on the other side of the fence, but now ‘the passport condition is being enforced’.

Small-scale trade

Olus Yar Achakzai, spokesperson for the organising committee, stressed that border restrictions severely impacted the economic well-being of small traders and nomadic communities who sell small quantities of perishable items, worth Rs500 to Rs600.

The mission noted that the current border restrictions and implementation of passport and visa requirements sparked significant protests and raised concerns among the local population, especially small traders and families with cross-border ties. It observed that the economic situation in Balochistan, particularly in Chaman, was challenging, and small-scale trade played a crucial role in the livelihoods of many families.

To address the immediate challenges and promote sustainable, inclusive and peaceful resolutions to the complex issues at hand, the mission recommended that the government facilitate visas on arrival at the border for easier travel and greater freedom of movement and establish markets at the border to enhance commercial activities, promote trade with neighbouring countries, and address issues such as governance, passports, and medicine shortages at public hospitals to improve socioeconomic conditions in the region.

Published in Dawn, March 13th, 2024

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