The Iranian Smugglers Trafficking Fuel Into Pakistan | PeopleNet TV

By Laura Mallonee

In Pakistan, a gallon of diesel costs more than $3. In Iran, it’s just 34 cents. The math is simple, and it sends droves of poor, Iranian smugglers speeding to the border in beat-up Toyota pickups loaded down with fuel.

Sadegh Souri tried his best to keep up while trailing the couriers over dusty mountain roads in the southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchestan for his series Fuel Smuggling. “They don’t stop on the way,” Souri says, “and they drive very fast.”

Millions of gallons of fuel illegally exit Iran each month—some 26.4 million from Sistan and Baluchestan province alone, according to state media. The government has tried a number of measures to stop the flow, like slashing fuel subsidies, erecting fences and walls along the border, and imposing steep fines on smugglers who get caught. But they don’t address the underlying problems that cause people to smuggle in the first place. “Drought, unemployment, and low fuel prices in Iran are the main cause of fuel smuggling, which has caused most of the youth in this province to perform this risky and lucrative job,” Souri says.

The journey begins at a fuel depot, where smugglers pump hundreds of gallons of diesel or paraffin oil into plastic tanks in their truck beds. They set off speeding sometimes more than 100 miles an hour up twisting mountain roads, their license plate numbers obscured with cardboard or mud. Some drop the fuel off at the border, letting others load it onto donkeys for the more grueling trek through the mountains of Pakistan. Those who want greater profits travel the whole way themselves.

Souri grew up in Sistan and Baluchestan seeing the smugglers’ vehicles on the road; but it was only in 2013, after US sanctions spurred a spike in smuggling, that he felt compelled to document them. At first, they thought he was a police spy and shunned him. But as time went by, they began to trust him and even introduced them to cousins or neighbors in the business. “In most families, there is at least one smuggler,” he says.

He tagged along on seven treks across the border over the next four years, photographing them with his DSLR on the road, at fuel depots, and even in their homes. Sometimes he followed in his car; other times he hopped in theirs. Police officers stopped him on multiple occasions, sometimes wiping his memory cards clean or destroying them entirely.

The gritty, stomach-wrenching photographs that survive underscore the dangers smugglers face on the road. In one, a man sits inside his vehicle, its windshield splintered by bullets from pursuing police. Another photo shows a young man holding up stumps for hands, the result of a fiery crash. It’s a steep price to pay, and one that makes the math far less simple.

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