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The Road To Taftan Is Painted Red With Shia Blood

Syeda Sana Batool shares a personal experience of the Taftan border and the fear she had to go through all those years ago while travelling that road. “In the present circumstances, even if [Shias] are put through hell by the authorities, or wronged and abused by their fellow countrymen for being responsible for the spread of the virus, they will bear that too”, she writes.

The wind would sometimes make its way through the narrow apertures of the bus windows, creating a screeching sound off and on as our bus took the 700km highway that connects Pakistan’s city Quetta, in the province of Balochistan, to Iran, home of many Shia pilgrimage sites. This highway now is known for suicide and roadside bomb attacks by Islamist militant groups targeting Shia pilgrims.

Throughout the journey, the mountains were my companions and harsh screeching winds were the music to the ears. There was no fear along even though the future of this terrain was all painted with the blood of those who would take the same journey and will never return home – the pilgrims, just like I was then in 1994.

There has been a lot of mention of the Taftan border in the news in these past weeks. Some people are mentioning Taftan jokingly and some with a lot of concern and negativity. However, what it brought back for me is a childhood memory, when I along with my family travelled to Iran from Karachi via the Taftan border in the year 1994. It is maybe outlandish to talk about that journey when the world is on the verge of collapse, but to me, it is strange how the mention of that word “Taftan” can trigger all those memories and emotions attached to it.

While it is true that Taftan isn’t some dream travel destination you wish to go to and expect the authorities to reach within hours with all the facilities and equip it with the finest services during the current situation, it is also true that Taftan border, despite it being one of the busiest borders of Pakistan, due to pilgrims traveling to Iran for decades, is also the most neglected one. The maintenance, infrastructure, and development of the border have never been of much concern for any government in Pakistan. The roads are uneven, rocky and muddy. This highway is throughout marked with its highs and lows that you have to bear to reach Taftan.

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I remember we stopped by the road as some of the passengers wanted to offer Asr prayers. There wasn’t a single person on both sides of the road except for the bus and its passengers. Even today, the memory of that road is marred with nothing except bareness and silence. We would occasionally stop in the residential areas where my father would ask us to not speak much or tell anyone where we are going or who we are. The walls of these towns were all chalked with sectarian abuse which we were supposed to ignore and pretend that this didn’t affect us. I was too young to understand but even at that time, I knew that there was fear – fear of being killed for our religious beliefs.

It is not a smooth path. But I understood one thing, which is that those who decide to take this journey have something very special in their hearts that they take along with them, or else risking one’s life for nothing doesn’t sit well with me. Our destination was Mashad, a city in Iran where 8th Shia Imam Ali al-Ridha is buried – where every pilgrim wants to go and because of which many of the pilgrims have been killed on the same road.

For me, Taftan is special. Those who take that road to reach Mashad are special. Taftan for me is a revelation point, a junction that decided my future and how the days of my life are going to be and the life journey that I took from there and forward.

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I can tell you one thing for sure. The people who go via Taftan to Iran have to bear a lot of difficulties, from the complexities of the road to the fear of being killed. In the present circumstances, even if [Shias] are put through hell by the authorities, or wronged and abused by their fellow countrymen for being responsible for the spread of the virus, they will bear that too

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