Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi is on Three-day visit to the capital of Iran. During their meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, both emphasized the need for stability and peace in the region. Border security for the past few years has been a top priority for both countries.
A rudimentary method to improve security and promote legal trade, adopted by both countries, is a 959 km long barrier between Pakistan and Iran, expected to be completed by December this year.
But the families across the border were very angry. With limited crossings, thousands of pickup trucks, commonly referred to as plunge by locals, lined up on the border between Pakistan and Iran, held hostage for the past month during the nasty heat and famine.
Above these zambads are barrels full of fuel – a symbol of Iran’s infamous but very popular illegal fuel trade. Iran’s oil sales are tightly restricted due to US sanctions; However, once smuggled into Pakistan, the options to sell it are much more widespread.
The region’s barren and underdeveloped nature – despite the Pakistan attention Balochistan has received since the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor – and very few job options on both sides gender makes it difficult to violate the law. But the reasons behind the illegal fuel trade have many causes.
For decades, Iran’s fuel smuggling has been a commonplace in the region, but the most recent oil boom has occurred after US sanctions against Iran in 2013. Amid the sanctions, Iran overcame some of its economic troubles through the cash flow generated from illegal trade across Pakistan’s Balochistan border. Many experts even claim smuggling fuel, mainly diesel, is actually very beneficial to the Iranian economy. Therefore, even with the security forces closely monitoring the border, the Iranian government did not impose a complete crackdown on illegal fuel smuggling.
On the other side of the border, although the Pakistani government has long criticized illegal trade for causing economic damage to the country, border patrol security forces benefit greatly from the bribes they often get from smugglers. As a result, traders, zambad drivers and others involved in smuggling are often not afraid of the rugged terrain and the uncertainty of what they do.
However, over the past decade, due to increased resistance and security concerns on both sides of the border, both countries have agreed to fencing the border. Pakistan’s fears intensified after it signed an agreement with China on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which began with the Port of Gwadar in the resisting province. The economic losses caused by oil smuggling also contribute to the determination of the border barrier.
In January this year, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan chair a high-level meeting creating consensus at all levels to take strict measures against illegal trafficking. It is determined that smuggled fuel is causing at least 100 to 150 billion rupees ($ 650 million to $ 980 million) in the economy each year. With Iran’s crackdown on smuggled fuel, as suggested by the Pakistani Senate, the economy could generate a reasonable amount of revenue that could then be allocated to the development of the border area.
But government development projects are no longer of major concern to residents of the region after their experience with the CPEC, which has left Balochistan residents behind despite promises. The anger at the border crackdown has given way to an online campaign, #JusticeForBorderVictims, after the reported deaths of four zambad drivers, who have been trapped at the border for weeks.
Shams ul Haq Kalmati, president of the Gwadar Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told The Diplomat: “This is not the first time the entire border has been closed, but it has never been a permanent thing. The border has been closed for at least a month. “And it is not just the border of Gwadar district, but through Balochistan. There is no substitute for the economic benefits of trading fuel for thousands of families from both sides of the border. Even the common frontier markets that the government is planning to establish cannot fill the void.
Joint border markets are a joint plan by the governments of Iran and Pakistan to encourage bilateral cooperation and legitimate cross-border trade. Pakistan’s foreign minister’s presence in Iran is partly to promote the same reason. A Memorandum of Understanding (Memorandum of Understanding) to open a new border gate and establish six cross-border common border markets was signed by Qureshi and his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif. The first three markets are expected to open at the Kuhak-Chadgi, Rimdan-Gabd border points in Gwadar district and Pishin-Mand in Kech district.
An informal analysis by local leaders in Gwadar found that Balochistan was heavily dependent on the illegal fuel trade with Iran. Thousands of people will lose their jobs if the persecution continues. The analysis mentions that at least 9,074 registered fishing boats, 54 fish factories, 125 local trucks and excavators, 25 buses go to Karachi and Quetta, and even some vehicles are used. The same fuel is used in Port Gwadar. And these unofficial statistics cover only one district of Balochistan.
A senior journalist in Gwadar, Bahram Baloch, told The Diplomat, “Not now the border is completely closed. Legal border singular [crossings] Still open, but the fuel trade has always relied on illegal crossings, currently in the process of being fenced. “This is leaving thousands of trucks waiting at the border in the hope that the border will open.”
It is too early to say whether the border fence is permanent or not. But if that’s the case, some questions raise concerns. Are the governments of Pakistan and Iran willing to provide alternative jobs to thousands of people who depend on illegal trade? With sanctions still in place, how will the Iranian government fill the gap due to the cash flow it receives from trade? And is the revenue that the Pakistani government expects to receive through border markets really invested in the development of the region? Without the answers to these questions, it is too early for both countries to firmly stick to the plan.