KHYBER: Hundreds of frustrated Afghans thronged the Torkham border crossing on Friday afternoon after border security officials of both Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed to partially reopen the border for pedestrian movement on both sides.

Sources at Torkham told Dawn that the issue of resumption of bilateral trade, however, remained unresolved during the talks held on the Pakistan side of the border.

Officials said as many as 500 stranded Pakistani came back after the border was reopened, while nearly 900 Afghans, with valid travel documents, were allowed to return to Afghanistan after the closed-door meeting between security officials of Border Coordination Committee of both countries.

Commandant Khyber Rifles Col Naumanul Haq headed the Pakistan side and was assisted by Lt Col Bilal, Lt Col Mujtaba Naseer and Maj Kamran, while the Afghan delegation included Attaullah, Qari Yousaf, Commander Qari Hanzala, Qari Sabit and five others.

Trucks line up on both sides as dialogue on resumption of bilateral trade remains inconclusive

During the meeting that lasted over two hours, border issues were discussed in detail and both sides agreed to partially reopen the border for pedestrians’ movement to allow the stranded nationals of both countries to cross over to their respective homelands.

Healthcare facilities

The meeting also agreed to reopen Dosti hospital for provision of emergency medical treatment to the ailing Afghans and also checking the medical status of the Afghans coming to Pakistan for medical treatment.

The officials of both countries, however, failed to arrive at any conclusion over the much-awaited resumption of bilateral trade. Hundreds of trucks loaded with multiple trade merchandise were still parked on roadsides, leading to the Torkham border.

Sources at Torkham told Dawn that the Afghan side insisted on exemption of visa restriction for Afghan cleaner (assistant), acco­m­panying drivers while bringing trade goods from Afghanistan.

Afghan transporters had long been demanding permission for their cleaners to cross over to Pakistan along with the owner/driver of the vehicle bringing Afghan import items to Pakistan as they suffer additional financial burden while arranging a local (Pakistani) cleaner for their vehicle after entering Pakistan.

They had argued that apart from paying additional money to local ‘helpers’, they were also faced with a trust deficit between them and their ‘stranger’ cleaner on Pakistan side.

Pakistan had long imposed a ban on Afghans entry on its soil without legal travel documents while a majority of the Afghan cleaners were either without visas or they could not afford to shoulder the burden of acquiring both passports and visas.

Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2023

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