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One village two countries

Tens of thousands of families live on either side of the border across the Durand Line. How is it affecting these people’s lives?

One village two countries
Pakistani soldiers check the identity of citizens returning from Afghanistan at the border town of Chaman.

“Once two shells landed just in front of our village house, located close to the border with Afghanistan. My brother was stuck in Chaman and my mother was freaking out,” Sara Rahman, a villager from Chaman who now works and lives in Islamabad, narrated as to how people in villages on both sides of the around 2430 kilometre Pakistan-Afghanistan border (also called Durand Line by many) have been suffering for the last many years.

She recalled they used to go to the border frequently while some of her cousins also go deep into the Afghan towns for shopping.

“It is such an exciting border. People cross the border on foot, on bicycles, bikes, truck and donkey carts for the last many years. Many people have married women from the Afghan areas and they are now part of the family,” she said, adding two of her aunts are from Afghanistan.

Tension prevails in villages on both sides of the border after a recent clash between the Pakistani and Afghan forces. The clashes erupted when Pakistani officials were conducting census in a border village that Afghanistan claimed to be its area.

Now authorities have formed a 13-member jirga of elders to negotiate the issue with the Afghan authorities. A report in media said Pakistan and Afghan authorities are to seek help from Google maps to settle their dispute over the border areas after a geological survey. Thousands of people living in villages close to the border have already left for safer places since the recent clashes have claimed several lives and injured a large number of others.

This is not the first time that forces from both sides have traded fire. On a number of occasions, shells and rounds have killed innocent civilians only for living in area close to one of the most complicated border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Most of the areas near the border remained under the control of militants for several years. The population on both sides, however, still used to travel from one country to another country without any hurdle.

Now proper gates are installed at Torkham and other routes to stop the spilling over of militants from Afghanistan into Pakistan. One is to show proper travel documents for entering into Pakistan at these points now.

Sara Rahman recalled she was very young when they left Chaman and would go there on Eid, family wedding or funerals. She added, “It always used to be a scary trip for her, at least because of the war in 80s.

“Life indeed is affected by the current tension because people never took it as a formal border. Now security measures on both side has made it difficult for people to cross it freely,” opined Sara.

There are tens of thousands of other families like Sara’s that are living on either side of the border in Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Waziristan and many areas of Balochistan. Since there was no fence, barbed wire or any kind of demarcation, people in these areas always moved frequently from one country into another. The war in Afghanistan and the militancy in Pakistan have directly affected a large population in villages on both sides of this border. People have been killed, kidnapped, their houses bombed; many have had to face threats from extortionists. Some of these villages have no hospital, school, road, clean drinking water and other facilities for being so remotely located.

The computerised national identity cards of tens of thousands in these border towns and other areas of Fata and KP were blocked by the Nadra on suspicion of being Afghans. Interestingly, almost all the Pakhtuns on both sides of the border still write Afghan as their cast in any official document, which has created innumerable problems for them despite the fact it doesn’t mean they belong to Afghanistan.

Many villages near the Afghan border were affected by shellings and bombings in the last many years of violence. Many houses in Kurram Agency’s Speen Ghar area developed cracks recently due to the impact of the mother of all bombs that US army dropped in Achin district of Nangarhar in Afghanistan to target militants’ hideouts last month. The miseries of the people in these border villages still has no end.

There are many tribes like Mohmand, Shinwari and several others that has huge population on both sides of the border and are so much connected socially with each other. “Till recent years, many people used to go for weddings across the border, others go for shopping in the morning and return before the sunset, no one had any idea as to when they have crossed the border and entered the Afghan territory and when they returned to Pakistan. The same is the case with people on the Afghan side,” said one Fazal Rabbi of Bajaur.

He added there are a number of routes that connect Pakistan and Afghanistan with each other. Some of these routes across the Fata and Balochistan were being used for smuggling auto parts, cars, fuel, cosmetics, cloth, electronics and innumerable goods from Afghanistan into Pakistan.

Tens of thousands of Afghans daily used to travel to and from Pakistan via the main Torkham-Jalalabad Road before Pakistan installed proper border management system many months back. It had also provided jobs and business opportunities to the people of villages living near the border. Though there were posts of all the concerned departments, people never needed any passport or visa for entering Pakistan from Afghanistan, either via Torkham or Chaman.

Now proper gates are installed at Torkham and other routes to stop the spilling over of militants from Afghanistan into Pakistan. One is to show proper travel documents for entering into Pakistan at these points now. This has also expedited the repatriation of the Afghan refugees in Pakistan who have been living in Peshawar and other areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for the last almost four decades. They used to go to their hometowns to attend funerals and weddings and would return the same or next day without any passport or visa.

“Now you can’t cross the Torkham border without proper document. One has to obtain an Afghan passport and valid visa to go to their hometown and then come back without any hurdle,” said Farid Khan, an Afghan refugee. He added, “The border management system has specifically affected the illegally residing Afghans, who neither had any proof of registration cards nor had an Afghan passport and were a threat to security too.”

A huge population of Afghans still come to Pakistan to visit local hospitals, others come to Peshawar for jobs and a large number of people to meet their families who are now settled here for many years. But they have to obtain proper travel documents for it.

Javed Aziz Khan

Javed Aziz Khan copy
The author is former president of Khyber Union of Journalists and covers conflict, political, social and human rights issues in KP and Fata. He may be reached at [email protected] Tweets @JavedAzizKhan

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