Deadly traffic: Fuel drivers arrested in Pak-Iran border tensions | Global development

K.Iram Jan * spent Eid al-Fitr in the May sun as he spent the last five days waiting in long queues for traffic to arrive in Iran. Like hundreds of other drivers, John came across the desert from Balochistan to the desert town of Mand on the Pakistan-Iran border.

While they waited, some drivers fell asleep in their famous Iranian pickup trucks. زمیدزWhile others were sleeping under the open sky.

John had the necessary token to cross the border, but he was unable to carry his desired load of illegal fuel. When he arrived at the security checkpoint, he was told to return as the daily limit of 400 Zamids had been reached.

“I’ve been taking fuel from Iran for two decades. I’ve never had such a hard time. If I go back without a trip to Iran this time, my family will starve to death,” John said under a tree. Resting, he said the temperature had risen above 40C (104F).

The fuel trade between Iran and Balochistan province has been going on for decades. Every day, more than a thousand Zamids traveled, selling to 1.5 million people in the Makran region of Balochistan. Iranian fuel also reaches five million people in other areas where Pakistani oil companies do not have petrol stations.

Fuel barrels are run on dirt tracks in the mountainous region of Balochistan. Wherever they can, drivers take the route of ignoring checkpoints with insecure borders.

In 2020, Pakistan began erecting a 600-mile (960-kilometer) border between Balochistan and Iran to prevent separatist militancy and smuggling across the border. Iran began erecting a fence a few years ago but has not completed the work.

Pakistan has the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) and the Iranian side the Revolutionary Guards Corps, with intermittent crackdowns by both countries.

Last month, the FC announced that only token-bound Zamiads would be allowed to cross the border in limited numbers of up to 400 a day. Three years ago, more than a thousand vehicles would pass every day, John said. “But now we have hardly one trip a month,” he said.

An underground pickup truck loaded with empty barrels.
one of the زمید Pickup truck loaded with empty barrels. Illegal trade plays a key role in supplying fuel to remote areas of Balochistan that do not have petrol stations. Photo: Shah Mir Baloch

In May, Abdul Razzaq Dawood, trade adviser to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, told the Pakistani Senate that an agreement had been signed with Iran to build markets on the border to facilitate local trade.

A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “Authorities in Pakistan believe this is an alternative to informal trade, but it is not. [The] The fencing has left thousands unemployed. If locals do not find alternatives, the militancy and law and order situation will worsen.

He said that the Prime Minister’s Office had started the latest crackdown after writing a letter to the authorities in Balochistan due to which they were affecting Pakistan’s legal fuel trade.

“The authorities cannot impose a complete ban on it,” he said. “If it is stopped, it will create a fuel crisis in the region, and it will starve thousands of families who depend on illegal trade.”

Mehrab Khan, 37, who is worried about the new restrictions. There are more rules than ever before. Even after receiving the tokens, we have been stopped at about half a dozen security checkpoints.

Relations between Iran and Pakistan are strained. The two accuse each other of not doing enough to shelter the militants and close their hideouts. In 2019, Iran warned Pakistan will “pay a heavy price” Allegedly to shelter militants who killed 27 Revolutionary Guards.

In April 2019, when Baloch separatists killed 14 soldiers of the Pakistani armed forces, Pakistan’s foreign minister accused Iran of harboring insurgents and called for action.

Across the border, Balochistan and Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan Province are the poorest provinces in both countries, with a majority ethnic Baloch population.

Maryam Zia Baloch, a research analyst with the World Bank, said: “The transportation of fuel from Iran to Pakistan is the main source of livelihood for thousands of families. The closure of the Pak-Iran border can be considered as a famine for several days. And sitting at home without food.

Abid Rahim, 32, who also sells petrol, said, “If this business stops, we don’t know how we will survive. There are no opportunities for us in Balochistan like factory work or other construction work.” We are just hungry.

Rahim used to earn Rs 40,000 (پون 180) in travel. “In the past, I could easily make five trips a month, but now it’s hard to go once a month,” he said.

Fuel carriers cook for themselves, while sheltering can be best at 40C.
Fuel carriers cook for themselves, while sheltering can be best at 40C. Photo: Shah Mir Baloch

At the end of February, Humayun Zafar, 28, filled his Zamid with fuel and unloaded it at the Shamsar Gate in Sistan and Baluchistan. But after that, Zafar was not allowed to return by the Iranian guards.

We were stranded at the border. They keep telling us to wait until they open it, but they never did. When we ran out of food we had to break the chains and try to get in. The guards opened fire on us, killing four and injuring more than a dozen.

“No one came to take the injured to the hospital and there is no mobile network so they could not tell their families about the attack.”

Amnesty International says Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have condemned the violence Illegally used deadly force The killings also sparked protests against unarmed fuel drivers and calls for an independent investigation, and Pakistan closed its borders with Iran. Thousands of drivers Were trapped In remote border villages. Abid Rahim was one of them.

A fellow driver became seriously ill. We took him to FC camp and told him to let him go to Iran because his family is there. The FC did not allow it. People took him back home but he died on the way.

“It was the worst 10 days of my life. We were not allowed to drink water from the water supply tank at the FC camp. We had hot water from a nearby river. We had skin rashes because we had to wear dirty clothes because we didn’t have extra clothes.

But the fuel carriers said they had to do it because they had no alternative. “It’s deadly,” said Karim Jan. When we arrived at the border to get the tokens, the FC asked us to pick up fences and blocks at our checkpoint in the mountains. We are told to send their workers to other security checkpoints.

“Sometimes, we are beaten. If there was any other way to earn a living, I would not be so embarrassed on a daily basis. We do it for survival.

No one in the Frontier Corps responded to requests for comment.

Name has been changed

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