Even though the war between Afghan guerrillas and Soviet-backed forces rages within sight just across the border in Kandahar Province, it is business as usual for smugglers in this dusty frontier town in Baluchistan.
Sidewalks in front of shops in the bazaar are piled high with black market Japanese-made color television sets, their cartons stenciled "via U.S.S.R. in transit to Kabul, Afghanistan."
Soviet-made refrigerators and washing machines, smuggled with ease from Kabul across the porous border despite the presence of Soviet and Afghan army troops, are popular items because of their cut-rate prices. Fine English wool suiting fabric sells for $14 a yard, a fraction of what it would cost on London's Saville Row.
Pakistani police look the other way as they amble up Chaman's bustling main street, past $115 washing machines and shops crammed with bolts of fine silks from Japan, which, the local Baluchi merchants say, find their way here by a circuitous route through Hong Kong, Soviet ports and Kabul, the capital of Soviet-occupied Afghanistan.
"You can buy almost anything you want at half the price," said a well-dressed businessman from Quetta, who had driven three hours over spine-jarring roads from the provincial capital to do some bargain shopping.
The outskirts of Chaman abut the Afghan border, and it is common for townspeople to climb to the roofs of their houses to watch Afghan Army tanks firing at rebel positions, or Soviet MiG fighter-bombers conducting air strikes around the village of Spin Buldak just across the frontier.
From the east, Chaman is approached through the 14-mile-long Khojak Pass, a rocky defile that rises spectacularly to 11,000 feet and then drops abruptly to this ancient way station of the trading caravans that used to ply between the Caucasus and the Orient. Even now, camel trains are a common sight along the road to Quetta as the nomadic Pathan tribesmen and their herds migrate to southern Baluchistan for the approaching winter.
At the official border crossing point, there is a brisk exchange of legal trade between the two countries, despite growing tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan over the four-year-long war.
In August alone, 54 persons were killed in Pakistan by cross-border artillery shellings and Afghan Air Force bombardments, and the Soviet Union has threatened wider action unless Pakistan curtails its support for Afghan rebels battling the government of President Babrak Karmal.
Rickshaws carrying Pathans, whose tribes are spread on both sides of the border, shuttle constantly over a 200-yard no man's land, as Afghan laborers on this side feverishly transfer crates of Afghan apples, grapes and pomegranates to Pakistani trucks for shipment to the interior.
Naseem Uddin, manager of an export-import firm here, said Pakistan exports tea, clothing, emory stones and goods manufactured in Japan and the United States through the official crossing point.
Uddin estimated that after the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, trade dropped off at least 25 percent, although he acknowledged that smuggling is still flourishing almost as it was in the British colonial era when the Durand Line separating Afghanistan from India was a border in name only.
Skirting Soviet and Afghan army patrols in the volatile Kandahar Province, the smugglers cross the open desert by truck and camel, and even on foot, to bring their goods to Chaman, Uddin said.
Meerani Khan, the Pakistani government's assistant commissioner for the Chaman tribal region, said that the delicate relationship between the central government and the tribal elders protects the bazaar merchants from arrest for selling on the black market, but, he said, customs agents are attempting to intercept smuggled goods as they are trucked into the interior.
"They bazaar merchants have no source of income other than this. But smuggled goods can be seized while moving beyond a one-mile radius," Meerani said.
However, one day last week there were no checkpoints along the road to Quetta, even though the tribal area is supposed to be restricted, and vehicles with smuggled goods could be seen freely moving to the provincial capital.
In addition to the smuggled merchandise, Afghan refugees -- who at 50,000 equal the indigenous population of Chaman -- are routinely transported across the desert frontier at night, either to visit relatives in Afghanistan or to fight Soviet and Afghan Army troops there.
The flow of people between the two countries is so steady, in fact, that Baluchi money changers line the sidewalks of the bazaar trading stacks of Afghanis for Pakistani rupees at favorable rates.