In the town of Chaman in the Balochistan province of Pakistan, violence between protesters and police has recently led to the deaths of at least four citizens and the wounding of twenty-eight others. The violence, which began on Thursday, is said to have begun as a result of the recent re-closing of the border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Protesters who want the border crossing to be reopened, mainly so that they can continue performing their jobs, have been participating in a sit-in and have engaged in the destruction of government property, escalating the violence. In demanding that the border crossing be reopened, the Balochistan province’s home minister, Zia Langove, claims that the protesters were attempting to provoke violence from security forces.
Though the death toll and the number of injuries are difficult to dispute, the decision about where to place blame for the violence varies between different individuals with different perspectives. While the security forces were undoubtedly involved in violent acts, the majority of the responsibility for the situation’s escalation seems to be placed on the protesters by officials. According to Al Jazeera, one example of a largely factual account that remains unbiased is found in the following quote from a senior official, Zakaullah Durrani, “Four people were killed, including a woman, in that clash and there was firing until 1 AM [local time, 21:00 GMT on Thursday].” However, the following account from the Balochistan province’s home minister, Zia Langove, also from an article from Al Jazeera, conveys a more biased opinion of the situation: “Those labourers tried to cross the border and they also attacked the quarantine [government-run] centre and [National Database and Registration Authority] centre there. There was firing and those miscreants who tried to take advantage of the situation, they also played a role to fan the flames.”
Though it is very inconvenient for workers to have the border closed, especially if they need to move between Pakistan and Afghanistan in order to complete their jobs, the COVID-19 pandemic is a serious concern and should be taken into account, especially if the closing of the border could help to prevent the spread of the virus. Though the protesters should have the right to stage a sit-in in order to protest the closing of the border crossing, in general, they should discourage the use of destruction and violence in their demonstrations. In addition, in terms of the reaction of local security forces, returning violence only creates more violence. Regardless of which side of the conflict initially started acting violently, every action should be taken to discourage that violence and to discontinue it before more injuries or deaths occur. Therefore, the government’s initiative to try and set up discussions with the protesters in order to come to an understanding is very admirable. This is a controlled and peaceful way to try and understand the plight of the protesters without engaging in violence and destruction.
Though the Balochistan province habitually suffers from widespread poverty, local workers engaged in trading benefit from being able to utilize the border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan on a regular basis. The crossing at Chaman is one of the main border crossings between the two countries, and consequently, its closure has affected many citizens who relied on its use for work. According to local authorities, the border has recently been closed due to both the COVID-19 pandemic and security concerns. Though the border crossing had been briefly reopened, similar security concerns led to the border’s closing soon after its reopening.
It remains to be seen whether the conversation between protesters and government officials will yield productive results or whether violence will continue to spark between protesters and security officials. The coming weeks will also provide more information on whether the border crossing will need to remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic or whether the needs of protesters will outweigh such concerns.