January 20, 2024
By Asad Baloch
Geopolitical tensions between Pakistan and Iran were nearly at a tipping point this week after the former launched retaliatory airstrikes against alleged militant hideouts in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan province, both countries are now moving toward de-escalation after calls for restraint from the international community. In the midst of it all, however, the Baloch populace residing along the border seem to have ultimately lost out.
While cross-border trade remained relatively unaffected since January 16, when Iran carried out missile and drone attacks against two alleged strongholds of Jaish al-Adl militants in Balochistan’s border-town of Panjgur, residents in Markran expect yet more financial woes amidst an ongoing recession, as the division’s economy relies heavily upon trade with Iran.
Balochistan National Party (BNP) leader Zarif Zadgi, explains that the Baloch people settled along the border have family members on either side, and that the deadly exchange between Pakistan and Iran may mean restrictions on movement and contact between families.
“You can practically say this about all of Kech that its sole means of income is through trade at the border,” he says. “People here bring oil [from Iran] which keep our kitchens running.”
The volume of trade between Pakistan and Iran is valued at approximately USD 2 billion, and was projected to reach USD 5 billion by the end of 2024 prior to the airstrikes.
Ghani Parwaz, a writer as well as the regional coordinator for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s (HRCP) Turbat office, says that geopolitical tensions inevitably result in economic disruptions.
“In our region, especially Makran, essential items such as petrol and food do not come from other areas of Pakistan. They do not come from Karachi or Quetta, but rather from Iran,” he explains. “If these items are barred from coming in [due to tensions], the financial burden on people who are already struggling in this economy will increase.”
Journalist Gohram Aslam Baloch states that Pakistan and Iran’s cooperation on security against the Islamic State (ISIS) will suffer.
“This event diverted the attention of Pakistan and Iran’s security, and the one who ultimately benefitted from this was Daesh militants,” he posits.
In October of 2023, Pakistan initiated action to restrict movement across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border through a one-visa scheme, sparking protests by communities on either side and further enhancing tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan. With this recent trade of fire, Baloch families are now concerned that existing restrictions along the Iran border will be further tightened.