Thousands of people protested at the Chaman border in Balochistan on Thursday against the government’s decision to restrict the border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan by making it mandatory for people to have a passport or visa to enter the country.
The protesters blocked the main route at the border.
The decision would come into force from November 1—a deadline set by the caretaker government for the illegal immigrants to leave the country. “Only passports will be accepted. Before that, from October 10 to October 31, we have E-Tazkira [travel document] for Afghan nationals,” interim Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti said on October 3.
But many experts and people whose livelihood depends on the border crossing have urged the government to review the decision. It merits here to mention that many people from other side of the border come here for medical treatment.
Media reports say they have been protesting for the past several days, but on Thursday many people marched along the crossing.
There was a perception that the decision was taken as a step to pressurise the interim Taliban government to act against the terrorists involved in cross-border attacks. According to Bugti, fourteen suicide bombings – out of the total 14 – were conducted by Afghan nationals.
“We engaged protesters in the Pak-Afghan border Chaman in talks for the second day through a Jirga. However, they want to drop out of one document regime ie seeking Id cards entry for Chaman and Spin Boldak-Afghanistan,” caretaker Balochistan Information Minister Jan Achakzai said in a post on X, erstwhile Twitter, hours after the protest.
But the state wanted to impose passports on all citizens crossing its borders to other countries and passports for foreigners entering Pakistan from September 1, 2023, he added.
Earlier in the day, Bugti told a press conference that the plan for the repatriation of illegal immigrants had been finalised.
The government has formed “holding centres” in the provinces as well as Islamabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and Gilgit-Baltistan. It has defended the decision, saying that only undocumented citizens were evicted from the country.
“The Pakistani government has decided to not allow any Afghan national without visa and passport and the same decision has been taken by the Afghan Taliban, who are not allowing our people on National Identity Card (NIC),” local business community leader Ghausullah Achakzai told Anadolu Agency.
Ghausullah, who has been leading the protest being held for the last several days, said that the decision would affect thousands of people.
As many as 1.7 million people have UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) or Afghan documents, the caretaker Balochistan information minister said, adding: “They are not being evicted.”
He went on to add that 1.3 million undocumented people, including a large number of Afghan citizens, were being expelled. They also include Iranian Baluch, Kurds, Indians, Bangladeshi, people from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Nigerians.
While on the subject of repatriation and deportation of illegal foreigners at the National Security Workshop, Chief of Army Staff General Asim Munir said: “Safety and security of each Pakistani is of paramount importance which cannot be allowed to be compromised at any cost.”