KHYBER: Federal Ministry of Interior on Tuesday permitted resumption of cross-border pedestrian movement at Torkham for four days a week, allowing citizens of Pakistan and Afghanistan to travel to both the neighbouring countries on legal documents.
The ministry through a notification issued on September 28 directed the ‘competent authorities’ to open the Torkham border crossing for pedestrian traffic for four days a week i.e. on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.
The notifications said that pedestrian (cross border) movement through Torkham would only be permitted on ‘valid passport and visa’.
Deputy Commissioner Mehmud Aslam Wazir confirmed to Dawn that the previous system of cross-border movement on legal travel documents was revived and both Pakistanis and Afghans would be allowed to travel to each other’s countries on having valid visas on their respective passports.
Jubilant daily wagers welcome reopening of border for four days a week
Pakistan Special Representative for Afghanistan and former ambassador Mohammad Sadiq had also in a tweet confirmed reopening of Torkham border for four days a week.
In his tweet, written in Pashto, he said that “the border crossing with Afghanistan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Torkham included, would be reopened for pedestrian movement on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. We will soon revert to the pre-coronavirus pandemic normal situation. Border authorities are given instructions to this effect.”
Pakistan closed all its borders with Afghanistan on March 16, 2020 after the outbreak of coronavirus. Officials then said that the borders were closed to prevent spread of Covid-19.
Pakistan had in March imposed a complete ban on entry of Afghans, even those who had valid visas on their passports. Similarly Pakistanis too were barred from travelling to Afghanistan for fear of contracting Covid-19 and bringing back with them the virus to their country.
The Torkham border crossing was, however, later opened for pedestrian movement on May 16 with only stranded Pakistanis and Afghans availing the opportunity on every Saturday.
The closure of border for almost two months rendered hundreds of local labourers and daily wagers jobless as they would assist the passengers in carrying their personal belongings up to the border crossing and bringing the same from zero point to the taxi stand.
The restrictions badly impacted bilateral trade between the two countries. The drivers of both the countries were barred from crossing the border point and instead handing over their vehicles to local drivers on their reaching to Torkham border.
Scores of Afghans living in different parts of Pakistan reached Torkham early on Tuesday morning and crossed the border into Afghanistan after undergoing necessary immigration procedures. Immigration officials said that all the returning Afghans had ‘exit’ stamps on their passport to prevent their ‘illegal’ entry into Pakistan in future.
Pakistan had earlier relaxed immigration procedure for returning stranded Afghans and had temporarily ‘forgone’ checking of travel documents during the time of their return.
On Tuesday, the number of returning Pakistanis, however, remained thin as the news about reopening of the border for four days a week had not yet reached the maximum number of those aspiring to travel between the two countries.
Exited local labourers and daily wagers sang and danced once they received the news about reopening of the border for four days a week. They played loud music and whistled and jostled in jubilation as the border reopening would help to revive their jobs.
Farman Shinwati, the president of Torkham Labour Union, welcomed reopening of border and expressed optimism that it would help the labourers to regain their lost occupations.
Haji Jabir Shinwari, senior vice president of Khyber Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that although they were happy with the revival of previous cross-border travelling procedure as it would provide an impetus to bilateral trade, yet they would still push for round the week cross-border pedestrian movement.
Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2020