20 more injured, 45 held as Chaman remains restive

Published June 8, 2024
PEOPLE pass through the Pak-Afghan border area during protests in different parts of Chaman, on Friday.—Dawn
PEOPLE pass through the Pak-Afghan border area during protests in different parts of Chaman, on Friday.—Dawn

• Train service to Quetta suspended
• PTI demands parliamentary committee
• FO says border movement must be regulated by visas

QUETTA: The situation in border town of Chaman remained volatile as violent protests and clashes between protesters and law enforcement agencies continued for a third consecutive day on Friday, resulting in injuries to 20 people, including eight security personnel.

Security forces arrested 45 individuals for allegedly damaging public and private properties and attacking security officials during protest rallies and demonstrations.

The passenger train service between Quetta and Chaman has been suspended due to violence and attacks on government buildings. “No train left for the border town of Chaman on Friday from Quetta due to security reasons,” a senior official of Pakistan Railways confirmed.

Officials said that contrary to the assurances by tribal elders that the protesters would confine their demonstrations to a designated area, where they had been staging a sit-in for months to press for their demands, the protesters unexpectedly swarmed onto various roads, armed with sticks and stones, and began hurling stones at shops that had been opened by shopkeepers.

The sit-in participants have been protesting against the government’s decision to only allow those with valid passports and visas to go beyond the Chaman border crossing. Before, Pakistanis and Afghans would cross the border upon showing their respective identity cards.

Business centres and numerous government offices remained closed on Friday due to the violent protests, with banks also being closed for several days. “National Bank has even relocated its staff to Qila Abdullah to ensure continued operation of its Chaman branch,” a bank official told Dawn. Some of the shops opened in the morning were forcibly shut down by the angry protesters. The mob also staged demonstrations in front of the FC headquarters in Chaman, pelting the building with stones.

Security forces, including Levies, police, and Frontier Corps, resorted to tear gas shelling to disperse the protesters who were attacking security personnel with sticks. “At least 20 people, including eight security personnel, were injured in the clashes, bringing the total number of the injured to 60 over the past two to three days,” a senior police officer deployed in Chaman told Dawn over phone.

“Security forces have arrested 45 people responsible for attacking police and Levies during demonstrations,” a law department official confirmed to Dawn.

However, the Quetta-Chaman highway remains open to traffic, as the local administration has issued a stern warning that no one will be allowed to block the critical highway that connects Pakistan with Afghanistan via Chaman.

“We are eager to resolve the issue through constructive negotiations with stakeholders to find a solution that restores employment for those who lost their jobs due to the prolonged closure of the Pak-Afghan border,” a senior official in Chaman told Dawn. “We held talks with tribal elders and other concerned individuals last night, who promised to normalise the situation in the border town, but unfortunately, that commitment was not honored.”

However, the leaders of the striking people declared that their protest will persist until the release of their arrested leaders and all individuals taken into custody over the past three days.

State’s authority

Meanwhile, a high-level meeting, presided over by Chief Minister Mir Safraz Bugti on Friday, reviewed the situation in Chaman, and resolved not to allow anyone to challenge the state’s authority or engage in violent acts under the pretext of protest in Balochistan.

Officials briefed the meeting on the latest developments in Chaman and the incidents that occurred over the past three days. In light of the situation, it was decided that the state’s authority must be upheld in all cases to ensure peace and order are maintained at Balochistan’s borders.

CM Bugti said local traders in Chaman are willing to negotiate and resolve the issues faced by professionals through dialogue, and the government is also willing to engage in talks to find a solution. However, he emphasised that attacks on security forces and damage to public and private properties are unacceptable.

On the other hand, four political parties — Awami National Party, Pashtoonkhwa National Awami Party, Pishin Tahaffuz Movement and National Democratic Party — jointly staged a demonstration in front of the Quetta Press Club in support of Chaman protesters and their demands.

A large number of workers and supporters of these parties carried party flags and banners inscribed with their demands. Speaking on the occasion, leaders of the three parties condemned the arrest of protesters and demanded that the government accept all demands of the Chaman traders and protesters.

Parliamentary committee

Separately, speaking in the National Assembly, PTI leader Asad Qaisar said people were holding protests in Chaman and the erstwhile Fata over loadshedding and state action. He urged the lower house of parliament to form a parliamentary committee on the situation. “I appealed to the decision-makers for mercy for the motherland. Stop showering bullets on the people of Chaman, rather they must be brought on the table for dialogue,” he said.

On Friday, the Foreign Office also said that movement across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border should be regulated by visas. During a media briefing in Islamabad, FO spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said that individuals wishing to enter Pakistan from Afghanistan must possess a visa and an Afghan passport. She emphasised that border movement between Pakistan and Afghanistan should be conducted under visa regulations.

Baqir Sajjad Syed and Syed Irfan Raza in Islamabad also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2024

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