KHYBER: Thousands of Afghans made a beeline for Torkham border crossing early on Friday morning when the news about resumption of cross-border pedestrian movement spread in most parts of the neighbouring country.
Sources in Torkham told Dawn that the number of aspiring Afghans was so high that Pakistani authorities had to deploy additional security personnel to prevent crowding and panic at the border crossing.
It was also learnt that the Afghan Taliban made repeated announcements on loudspeakers to its ‘unruly’ nationals to avoid congestion at the border crossing and let only those, who needed the most, cross over to Pakistan.
However, the announcements fell on deaf ears as the Afghans made desperate bids to get online visa for Pakistan.
More security men deployed to prevent crowding
Bilal, a 28-year-old resident of Laghman province in Afghanistan, told Dawn that he got online visa on Friday morning after spending a sleepless night near the border crossing.
He said the number of people, including women, children and the elderly, was so high on the Afghan side of the border that it was literally impossible for both the Afghan and Pakistani authorities to entertain everyone’s request for visa.
Abdullah, a resident of Nangarhar province, also said he reached Pakistan after getting visa online.
He said though majority of Afghans welcomed the resumption of pedestrian movement via Torkham border, it would take the authorities weeks and months on both sides of the border to clear the ‘waiting lot’ as Afghans had started reaching Torkham in large numbers after learning about the border reopening for ordinary people.
Pakistani officials also confirmed crowding on the border and said security clearance was meticulous and painstakingly slow.
They said only 801 from among thousands of aspiring Afghans were allowed to enter Pakistan on Friday.
Independent sources told Dawn that the clearance process on the border zero point was so strict that even infants above the age of two months with no visa were not allowed and their parents were returned despite having online visas.
They added that moving scenes were witnessed when family members were separated from each other as some had visas, while the others had yet to obtain it.
Meanwhile, the Torkham Labour Union ended a strike and withdrew the call for a road blockade announced for Oct 25 to press the government for the resumption of pedestrian movement and restoration of their jobs.
Union president Farmanullah Shinwari told Dawn that the strike was called off after the border reopening for pedestrian movement.
He said the union hoped that the manual jobs of workers would be restored.
Mr Shinwari said around 8,000 daily wagers and porters alongside over 3,000 taxi drivers lost work after Pakistan announced the closure of the border for pedestrian movement in early May to stem the spread of coronavirus from Afghanistan.
He said he hoped that those workers would reclaim livelihood after the complete restoration of pedestrian movement on both sides of the border.
Published in Dawn, October 23rd, 2021