Being an Afghan national in Pakistan is an increasingly risky business these days as, right from the border crossing at Torkham, exploitation is the name of the game.

Gaining legal entrance into the ‘Land of the Pure’ via the overland route and Torkham is a nightmarish venture from start to finish. Although, to be 100 percent accurate, ‘finish’ is certainly far from being the correct word as, as long as they are in Pakistan, ‘paying’ their way is a never-ending game for Afghan citizens, who are perpetually hassled by, ‘officials’, police and just about every type of disgusting miscreant one can imagine conjuring up.

Staff at the hectic border post do, admittedly, have their hands full, as the volume of people coming and going to and from Afghanistan is a daily avalanche of mixed characters, but there is still absolutely no need to persecute those carrying undeniably legal papers or passports, with valid entry stamps, no matter whether or not they belong to the rags or riches class of people. Yet, unfortunately, pushing people around, verbally and physically, harassing them or just plain refusing, despite everything being in tip-top order, to allow them entry here is an all too common occurrence during which, it goes without saying, money quietly changes hands.

High-level attempts, governmental and otherwise, aimed at promoting peace and trade between the two, currently far from brotherly, countries are highly unlikely to generate the required volumes of goodwill and harmony all down the line if those operating as border officials, be they genuine or otherwise, continually victimise those having a legitimate and legal right to travel to their specified destinations as such untoward actions serve to promote dissatisfaction, even hatred, when the road should lead to peace and harmonious actions.

Such loutish treatment, as routinely metered out to people coming here from across our northern border, knows no bounds as those transporting emergency medical cases from Afghanistan to Pakistan have found to their horror on more than one occasion when they have, despite all paperwork being present and correct, been rudely refused entry on one pretext or another which is certainly not how it should be.

For those Afghans ‘lucky’ enough to gain entrance via Torkham, their trails are far from over as, between there and their destination, they are liable to be forced to part with far more money than they can afford as police and others fleece them along the way and then, if they are unlucky enough to need to rent accommodation, prices are inflated, services often reduced to a bare minimum as the legendary code of hospitality, extended to travellers for generations untold in this part of the world, simply ceases to exist.

It is true to say that there are also reports of Pakistani nationals, particularly in the category of labour, experiencing problems in Afghanistan but not on the same scale, or indeed anywhere near it, which the Afghan nationals face here and right from the border crossing at that and, one has to wonder, why this is as it most certainly did not use to be the case?

Prior to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, 33 years ago now, the Afghan and Pakistani nationals were brothers in countless ways and trade between the two countries flourished without all of the complications injected today. People came and went across the border, including huge volumes of tourists, with ease and all was well in this part of the world other than the occasional flurry of feeling about the location of the controversial Durand Line and the nationality, Afghan or Pakistani, of the indigenous tribes residing in the border region. The Soviet invasion and resultant massive influx of the Afghan refugees, initially welcomed here with open arms, marked the beginning of a tremendous strain in neighbourly relations. Yet, in retrospect, it really wasn’t until the arrival of the Taliban on the Afghan scene that the situation began to slide down to the abominable level it has reached today and the fact that now even border guards and others feel confident enough to treat legal Afghan visitors with distaste does not bode well for the future.

With this entire region bubbling towards some kind of implosion or explosion, it is imperative that friendly, rather than hostile, treatment is uncalculated into officials at all levels no matter who they happen to be dealing with and the circumstances involved and this is especially so when it comes to border guards and others who deal with foreign visitors, irrespective of their country of origin, in any way.

For any kind of lasting peace in this volatile region, it is imperative that people at all levels, across all borders, are given the kind of respect they deserve and that relationships are warmly established the second they set foot on each other’s soil. Governments and officialdom in general are, after all is said and done, but a minute drop in the ocean of humanity ebbing and flowing around this vastly over-populated, over-exploited, highly explosive planet and it is up to the people themselves to interact on the harmonious level which, minus bad mannered, corrupt officials and the like, is as natural as breathing. Here in Pakistan, we would do well to promote peace and understanding by, for a start, teaching border personnel that they are going about things in a very bad way, indeed!

The writer is author of The Gun Tree: One Woman’s War (Oxford University Press, 2001) and lives in Bhurban.

Email: zahrahnasir@hotmail.com