August 28th, 2021
By Asim Khan
Shukria and her family crossed the Pak-Afghan border from Afghanistan’s Malistan province and came to Hazara Town in Quetta.
Two of Shukria’s family members were killed by the Taliban. Shukriya herself was forced to flee in the darkness of the night, crossing the border into Pakistan’s Balochistan.
Here she is going to rent a house from a Hazara family for 5000 Rupees.
Now she and her four other family members, including two brothers can find work here so that they can take up permanent residence in Pakistan.
As Afghanistan is ravaged by conflict, once again Pakistan’s lands lie open for the influx of Afghan refugees in both Balochistan and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa which are the border areas. Despite the grave and uncertain future, the provincial government of Balochistan has still not formulated any plan for the arrival and accommodation of potential refugees.
Border officials say that traffic on the Pak-Afghan border has increased significantly since the Taliban took over in Afghanistan.
“About 18,000 people are now crossing the border on a daily basis,” says Hameedullah, the health team incharge posted at Pak-Afghan border at to vaccinate incoming refugees against coronavirus.
Hameed says in the past, a maximum of 12,000 people used to cross the Pak-Afghan border in a single day, but now at least 6,000 more are being recorded.
“An average of about 3,000 people cross the border on Afghan identity cards, and 3,000 on Pakistani identity cards,” he says.
Many Hazara families too have migrated from Afghanistan to Quetta.
Like Shukriya, Fatima, who hails from Ghazni, Afghanistan, has moved to Quetta with her family as well.
Fatima’s husband works in Iran and now she will try to make a living by stitching clothes as it is no longer possible for her to return to Afghanistan.
For Afghan national Karim, it is not his first time in Pakistan. The closure of business activities after the Taliban took over has led to a sharp rise in poverty, forcing him to return to Pakistan.
“Afghan citizens who come to Pakistan from Afghanistan through the ‘Friendship Border’ have the Afghan document called ‘tazkira‘. They are only allowed to come within the boundaries of Chaman and Qila Abdullah, as per a decision made in the past by Pakistani officials and former Afghan border officials,” Deputy Commissioner Chaman, Jumma Dad Tareen told Voicepk.
He adds that, only those who mentioned Spin Boldak, Afghanistan’s border town, could stay within the boundaries of Chaman or Qila Abdullah district, which are on the Balochistan side.
But people from other cities of Afghanistan do not have this facility.
As the same agreement is still being followed even under Taliban occupation, the Afghan citizens who try to sneak out including Quetta, are to be arrested from various check posts between Quetta and Chaman and will be sent back to Afghanistan.
Fear and uncertainty
Twenty nine year old Afghan national Sibghatullah crossed the border with his six family members at the Chaman border, leaving everything that they once had behind possibly forever. He is worried and scared that the situation in his home country will deteriorate further.
Sibghat says he has fear in his heart despite assurances from the Taliban. The situation may worsen very quickly, so he has now moved temporarily with his family to relatives living in Pakistan’s border area.
“I am not sure what our future will be, but for now I want my family to be safe,” says Sibghat who was a shopkeeper from Kandahar, as he looks around to find his cousin, who was supposed to welcome him at the border.
Changes in local economy
Locals involved in the trade say the import of Afghan fruit in Pakistan is likely to increase by 50 percent after the Taliban take over.
According to local trader, Haji Rozi Khan, one has to go through seven check posts from Kandahar province of Afghanistan to the Pakistani border.
Due to extortion at check posts on the Afghan side, they have had to pay up to 100,000 in Afghani currency, which they no longer have to pay, though they still have to pay extortion at Pakistani check posts.
“No instructions have been received from the provincial government regarding Afghan refugees,” the Commissioner Quetta Division says.
“Federal Ministry of Border Affairs is responsible for IDPs,” says Interior Minister Mir Zia ullah Langau, added that no plan has been received from the federal government.
“Pakistan’s peace is linked to peace in Afghanistan,” says the provincial interior minister.
Zia said that the people of Afghanistan, whoever they chose for the government, it is their right.
“We hope that the land of Afghanistan will no longer be used against Pakistan,” said the provincial interior minister Langau.
Zia Langau insists that India has been involved in unrest in Pakistan by using Afghan territory.
“Taliban’s statement on non-use of Afghan territory against Pakistan is welcomed,” Mir Zia Langau said.
“This is our wish and hope that the land of Afghanistan should not be used against Pakistan,” said the provincial interior minister.
Abdullah Khan, a resident of Chaman often visits Pak-Afghan border, says there is a situation of tension at the Chaman border at the moment as thousands of people are arriving this side of the border. It is difficult to get a car seat even for Rs 2,000.
He says some illegal immigrants are caught while others manage to escape.”Baab e Dosti is over occupied, there is so much crowd at the border that it takes 25 minutes from the border to reach your transport,” he says.
“Vehicles are being brought in full and prices are being triple charged for it”.
“More than 300,000 Afghan refugees are already housed in 10 refugee camps in Balochistan, UNHCR spokesperson Humera Karim said.
“New refugees have not yet arrived in these refugee camps in the province,” UNHCR spokesman said.