Chaman Sit-In: HRCP Proposes Measures To Address Issue

The HRCP has issued a fact-finding report on the impact of the border restrictions on the livelihoods of small traders in the region.

Chaman Sit-In: HRCP Proposes Measures To Address Issue

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), a nongovernment organization committed to protecting human rights and democratic values, has urged the government to practice the policy of ‘dialogue and diplomacy’ to resolve the sit-in staged against border restrictions at Chaman, Balochitsan.

In October 2023, thousands of local businessmen and families with cross-border ties in Chaman staged a sit-in when strict immigration control measures at the Pak-Afghan borders were announced following an executive order issued by the caretaker government, giving illegal refugees in the country 30 days to leave Pakistan. Even now, five months later, the sit-in continues.

The HRCP has issued a fact-finding report after conducting meetings with organizers of the sit-in and caretaker provincial minister for information, Jan Achakzai, to assess the potential impact of the border restrictions on the livelihoods of small traders in the region.

In the report, HRCP suggested that it is crucial for the new federal and provincial governments to immediately engage in constructive dialogue with the affected communities, local leaders, and relevant stakeholders, including representatives from Afghanistan, to address concerns and find satisfactory solutions.

“Efforts should be made to enhance economic opportunities in Baluchistan, particularly in the Chaman district, through investment in local industries, job creation, and support for small traders. This could mitigate the impact of border restrictions on livelihoods,” the report read.

The report stated, “When formulating policy, the government should prioritize the well-being of individuals and families, especially those with cross-border ties, ensuring that their basic needs and rights are respected and upheld.”

“Balancing national security interests with the legitimate needs of the local population is essential. Steps should be taken to address concerns related to smuggling and security while minimizing adverse effects on the daily lives of the people in the region,” it said.

The report stated, “Addressing the root causes of economic hardship and border tensions will require sustained efforts, including measures to prevent sustainable development, cross-border cooperation, and good governance.”

When the HRCP mission met with the organizers of the sit-in to ascertain the key demands of the protestors, Abdul Manan Akhwond, a member of the sit-in’s organizing committee, told the mission that their demands included the abolition of the passport and visa requirements for local residents, the restoration of small traders' welfare packages, and an end to the crackdown against Afghan refugees.

He said that all the small traders were more willing to pay their taxes to the government than paying bribes to the local administration and Frontier Corps (FC) at the check-posts that would be setup between Chaman and Quetta under the proposed easures, an issue that traders were already facing at the check-posts between Taftan (at the Pak-Iran border) and Quetta.

Ameer Muhammad, who is leading the ongoing sit-in at Bab-e-Dosti, Chaman, said that his family's land has been divided by the border fence put in place by Pakistani authorities, leaving more than a hundred acres in Afghan territory. He had been assured at the time of fencing that he would have no problem accessing the land that falls on the other side of the border, but now the passport condition is being enforced.

During a meeting with the HRCP mission, provincial caretaker minister for information, Jan Achakzai, said that the government aims to prevent border closures for local tribes while addressing smuggling and unauthorized trade. He said that the annual illegal trade of goods through the Chaman border, of approximately USD 70 billion, negatively impacts Pakistan's economy and points to vehicles from Nushki and Chaman avoiding taxes of up to PKR 2,500,000. He said that Pakistan has faced security in return for hosting Afghan refugees for decades, adding that the provincial government was committed to resolving issues related to governance, passports, and medicine shortages in public hospitals.

The minister acknowledged peaceful assembly as a democratic right and said that efforts were being made to address the protestors' legitimate demands, such as markets that would be established at border stop-romote trade with neighboring countries and a ‘One-Document Regime’ to facilitate local residents while combating cross-border smuggle. He also said that the Baluchistan government was providing an unemployment allowance of PKR 20,000 to small traders in Chaman and planned to set up technical centers for local youth. ‘Visa on arrival facilities will be established at the border,’ he added.