Why Are The People Of Chaman Along  Pakistan-Afghanistan Border Unheard? The State Must Engage Them – OpEd


Chaman is a city and the headquarters of the Chaman District in Balochistan, Pakistan. It is located near the Durand Line, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The district was newly carved out of the Qila Abdullah District.

The Chaman border crossing is one of the crossing points at Durand Line, the 2,640-kilometre (1,640-mile) border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. situated nearly 120km (74 miles) northwest of Quetta, is one of the busiest crossings between the two countries and is used by thousands of people every day.

More than 250,000 predominantly ethnic Pashtuns, mainly from the Achakzai and Noorzai tribes, live on both sides of the Durand Line border. The border has divided scores of villages, their agricultural lands, and grave vyards. All tribes are closely interconnected in their centuries-old social contracts, or intermarriages.

Historically, there has been free movement of these tribes along the Durand Line since signing the Treaty of Gandamak, which ended the first phase of the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–80). Under the provisions of the treaty, the Amir surrendered control of jurisdiction over the Korram and Pishin valleys, the Sibi district, and the Khyber Pass to the British, followed by the Durand Line Agreement in 1893, along with the Anglo-Afghan Treaty of 1905, which was canceled after the end of the third Anglo-Afghan War and the declaration of Afghanistan as an independent state in 1919 during the signing of the Treaty of Peace. There were these treaties of 1919 signed in Rawalpindi and of 1921.

All these arrangements split the Pashtuns into two separate countries. Afghanistan governs all the Pashtuns on one side of the Durand Line, while British India, later on, Pakistan since 1947, governs all the Pashtuns on the other side of the Durand Line. However, free movement of those tribes without visas and passports on the Chaman border continued until the recent abrupt and unplanned decision of the interim government in Pakistan, despite the unilateral fencing of the Pak-Afghan border in 2017 by Pakistan.

Pakistan’s interim administration has decided to enforce a strict visa and passport policy along its border with Afghanistan since November 1. This move is aimed at monitoring unauthorized cross-border movement between the two countries. The new policy has sparked widespread dissent, leading thousands of local tribesmen, daily wages workers and traders to set up a protest camp in Chaman. The sit-in protest has lasted for 45 days.

The sit-in that has blocked the Quetta-Chaman highway and halted trade between the two countries, hails support from cross sections of society including civil rights activists and key Pakistani political parties, including the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, the Balochistan Awami Party, the Pashtun Tahafooz Movement, the Jamiat Ulema Islam, the Jamaat-e-Islami, and the Pakistan Muslim League (Q). Addressing the crowd very recently, the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party’s chairman, Mahmood Khan Achakzai, warned that the protest could spread to other cities if the decision with regard to imposing strict visa regime was not reversed. Though the protesters are thousands in number encamped near border continuously for last forty five days but amazingly, there is a complete blackout on print and electronic media.

Trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan via the Chaman border crossing ground came to a halt as participants in a month-long sit-in in the town. They argue that the new policy to require visas for crossing the border negatively impacts tens of thousands of people. They have established the all hParty Tajir Committee to voice their concerns with the authorities that “For 70 years, people of Chaman-Spin Boldak have been crossing the border daily to visit families, do business, bury their dead, or seek treatments in hospitals without visas, and now the Pakistan government has made an abrupt decision to enforce visas. “This is unacceptable.”

The political party’s prominent leaders, Asgar Khan, Dr. Samad Achkzai of the ANP, and Manzoor Pashtoon of the PTM, particularly Mehmood Khan Achakzai of PKMAP have said that the Pakistani authorities had assured Pashtuns along the border region in the past during fencing the border that Afghan Tazkera and Pakistani identity cards—coupled with biometric screening—were “legally acceptable” for border crossing. They argued that Pakistan’s visa system will deprive more than 40,000 people who cross the border daily—including business owners, traders, drivers, and daily wage workers, lughari (wheelers)—and is resulting in a huge economic loss that will threaten thousands of families livelihoods as there is neither agriculture nor industry in the area.

In this regard, I would like to quote Mr. Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan, about the Pashtoon and their free movement on the Durand Line. 1940s, when the secular Indian National Congress was in power in the NWFP and Dr. Khan Sahib, brother of Bacha Khan, was chief minister. The All-India Muslim League was rising but still on the back foot.
To woo the Pukhtoons and counter the Khan brothers’ popularity, Mr. Jinnah insisted that Islamic unity must trump ethnicity. As recorded in the Jinnah Papers, on June 29, 1947, he declared, “I want the Muslims of the Frontier to understand that they are Muslims first and Pathans afterward.”  With closely knitted Pashtoon families living on either side of the Durand Line—a British construct designed to demarcate the British from Russian spheres of influence—Jinnah never suggested Pukhtoons would ever be prevented from freely crossing over. He elaborated, “How could a Muslim from Uttar Pradesh become a Pakistani but not another Muslim living right across an arbitrarily drawn line? It made no sense.” Jinnah thus won over the Pashtoon; the rest is history.

Pakistan’s government pleads for imposing a visa regime

\No doubt, for the last two decades, the regions surrounding the Durand Line have been used by armed groups, such as the Haqqani Network, al-Qaeda, and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), to conduct attacks both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Kabul has long accused Pakistan of providing sanctuary to the Afghan Taliban. Islamabad, on the other hand, has raised similar concerns about the TTP’s presence in Afghanistan and now carrying out terrorist activities in Pakistan.

Further, the strict visa system will help curb the cross-border smuggling of narcotics and weapons that help sustain terror groups in the region. Pakistan claims its mass deportation scheme, including border restrictions, will prevent terrorist attacks from Afghanistan, therefore ensuring the security of the state and the welfare of the public. Balochistan’s government is calling for arrangements to be put in place to implement the plan despite pressures, including from political parties. several passport offices, including in Chaman and Qila Abdullah, have been set up to issue traders and travelers’ passports to encourage legal border crossing.

However, despite the government’s efforts, the political parties, including all trade associations and tribal leaders, considered governmental claims to be “false pretext,” saying Pakistan’s policy is harming civilians and splitting families and tribes. They criticized the government’s arbitrary policy, which is aimed at scapegoating traders and people, for its internal problems and failure on all fronts.

They said that the border is an economic lifeline and that imposing curbs will starve people. “How can we accept the state’s decision, which requires large numbers of daily wagers, drivers, families, or the sick seeking medical treatment, all of whom live along the border, to travel every day in thousands using a passport and visa?” They asked, stating that the protesters would continue the sit-in until the government reverts to previous border crossing regulations and emphasizing that unless their demands are met, the protest will persist indefinitely. 

They demand that the Pak-Afghan border be reopened and the old system of travel be introduced back for the benefit of the people on both sides of the border.” Such harsh measures would only create problems for the residents, whose only source of income is the cross-border trade between the two countries.

Different arrangements on the Pakistan-Iran and India borders

Pakistan and Iran share four official border crossings. The two official border crossings, Taftan and Gabd, are used for pedestrians as well as for trade. While Mand and Chadgi are only reserved for the trade.

At the TAFTAN border crossing, there is the Rahdari Gate, which facilitates travel by locals on both sides of the Pak-Iran border on a 15-day permit. The transit permit, known as Rahdari, is being issued by Deputy Commissioners under the 1956 agreement between Iran and Pakistan. According to the 1956 agreement between Iran and Pakistan, people who obtain the Rahdari, or ‘red pass’, are allowed to travel to Iran to visit their relatives living on the other side of the border.

Gabd-Rimdan is another crossing point in district Gwadar, which becomes the second border point between Iran and Pakistan to facilitate trade and public movement between Iran and Pakistan, after the main crossing in Taftan. It is located about 120 kilometers from the Iranian port of Chabahar and 70 kilometers from Pakistan’s port of Gwadar. “The purpose of this and other proposed border crossing points is to enhance people-to-people contacts and facilitate travel and trade between the two countries.

Is a visa required for the Kartarpur Corridor?

The Agreement, inter alia, provides for visa-free travel by Indian citizens as well as Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholders from India to Gurudwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur in Pakistan daily throughout the year. You must apply for an electronic travel authorization 48–72 working hours before you travel. You have to apply for the Pakistan ETA on the official Pakistan Visa Portal, using a similar application method as you would apply for an E-Visa.


The different arrangements on three different borders agitate the minds of every civilized citizen, particularly the Pashtoon population across the country, who feel that everywhere they are maltreated,  by the law enforcement agencies, and hated by the politically motivated elements, though small in numbers in Punjab and Sindh provinces, based on their ethnicity as Pashtoons.

The Pashtoon population on both sides of the Durand Line has been the victims of the global war and the global Jihadhi project for the last four decades. They have lost millions of lives and billions of dollars of their properties during that period, particularly after the 9/11 incident. Therefore they need resilience rather than pushing them to the walls. 

It is the constitutional obligation of the state and the government to protect the life, property, and honor of every citizen and to allow free movement, including business, anywhere in the country. They must be treated equally with out any kind of discrimination or maltreatment and provided with equal opportunities. The long and peaceful protest of the people of Chaman town must be taken seriously and engaged them in dialogue without further delay. All stakeholders should be taken on board, and an amicable and durable solution must be found, keeping in view the past practices with regard to unrestricted movement on the border and the easement of the public. Since the overall security situation in Balochistan province is highly charged and worsening day by day, therefore it is high time for the authorities in the corridors of power to learn from the past mistakes and take immediate measures, give patient hearing to the protesters and address their concerns with in shortest possible time.

Sher Khan Bazai

Sher Khan Bazai is a retired civil servant, and a former Secretary of Education in Balochistan, Pakistan. He can be reached at [email protected].

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