AS part of the policy of the Government to effectively regulate international borders, the Economic Coordination Committee of the Cabinet (ECC) on Wednesday approved Rs300 million technical supplementary grant for proposed border markets in Gabd, Mund and Chedgi in Balochistan bordering Iran.
Establishment of border sustenance markets will help mitigate the problems faced by the people residing in border areas due to fencing and counter-smuggling measures.
The economic woes of the people living in border areas was highlighted when Pakistan authorities launched a crackdown against rampant smuggling of Iranian oil into Pakistan, causing huge financial losses to the country.
The menace of smuggling from Iran assumed new but alarming dimensions after US sanctions against Tehran in 2013 and it is widely believed that Iranian security forces keep their eyes close to the illegal trade as it fuels the Iranian economy.
The practice is so wide that, according to some estimates, over two million people in Pakistan are directly or indirectly involved in the illegal trade and petrol pumps selling smuggled Iranian oil are freely operating in all the four provinces, the highest number being in Punjab.
It is all the more intriguing that Pakistan is also suffering on account of legal and formal trade as Tehran has imposed tariff and non-tariff barriers on imports and as a consequence Pakistani exports to Iran stand at just at $36 million out of total bilateral trade of $359 million.
It is because of the profuse economic bleeding that Pakistan is implementing a border management plan both on its borders with Iran and Afghanistan.
As the anti-smuggling measures are protested against by the population living in border areas pointing out that they are forced to indulge in illegal trade because of lack of economic opportunities, the decision to establish border markets was taken to provide economic opportunities and sustenance to them.
A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Pakistan and Iran in April this year and it is satisfying that concrete measures are being taken to give the idea a practical shape.
Initially, three such markets are to be established and three more joint border bazaars would be set up at three other points.
Apart from establishment of border markets, it is the responsibility of the provincial and federal governments to launch employment generation projects in border districts to address the problem of abysmal poverty and accelerate the pace of socio-economic progress of the people.
At the same time, Pakistan should take a firm stand against smuggling of oil and other products from Iran and take up the issue of trade barriers with Iran in a comprehensive manner to safeguard the country’s economic interests.