LANDIKOTAL: People wait on the roadside after the Torkham border was closed due to an exchange of gunfire between Afghan and Pakistani forces on Wednesday.—PPI
LANDIKOTAL: People wait on the roadside after the Torkham border was closed due to an exchange of gunfire between Afghan and Pakistani forces on Wednesday.—PPI

KHYBER: At least two people, including a Frontier Corps (FC) official, were injured when a gun battle erupted between Pakistan and Afghan border forces on Wednesday, shutting the busiest trade crossing between the two countries at Torkham.

Officials in Pakistan blamed the other side for starting the midday firefight, which lasted for around two hours and came after the Afghan authorities started building a checkpoint on their side in a prohibited area, close to the main border crossing.

Officials said the Afghan authorities already had a checkpoint, commonly known as the Larram Post, in the vicinity, but they started building another post over a small hill without discussing it with the Pakistani side.

They said border security officials had also held a meeting minutes before the crossfire began. However, it could not be ascertained what the meeting’s agenda was and what prompted both countries’ border forces to open fire.

Apart from the FC official, a Customs clearing agent was also critically injured when he was hit by a speeding vehicle pulling back to safety after the firing started.

Jamshed Khan, a Customs agent at Torkham, told Dawn that everyone near the Torkham border crossing immediately vacated their workplaces and ran for cover when the firing started.

He said that it was not clear which side initiated the firing. “First, we heard the sound of firing from small weapons and then heavy weapons were also used from both sides,” he said, adding that the incident caused panic among clearing agents, transporters and ordinary people, with drivers of loaded and empty vehicles trying to flee the troubled spot.

Sabir Khan, a resident of the Bacha Maina residential compound near the border, told Dawn that people had sent their families to safer locations in Landi Kotal when some projectiles fired from the Afghan side landed inside some homes. He said the projectiles left minor marks on some houses, but no one was injured.

Blame game

Irshad Mohmand, a local administration official in Pakistan, told AFP that Afghan forces tried to establish a checkpoint in an area where it was agreed that both sides would not establish a post.

“After an objection from the Pakistan side, the Afghan forces opened fire,” he said, adding that Pakistan border forces responded with “retaliatory fire”.

However, the Afghan Taliban government blamed Pakistan. “Pakistani forces attacked the Afghan side when Afghan forces wanted to reactivate their old outpost with an excavator,” said Quraishi Badloon, an official for the information and culture directorate in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province.

“The attack has resulted in casualties, but the exact figures are not known yet,” he said.

However, a Taliban government interior ministry spokesman, Abdul Mateen Qani, said on Wednesday that efforts were being made “to prevent the causes of this clash and the recurrence of such incidents,” AFP reported.

A local Pakistan police official told the news agency that the shooting stopped by late Wednesday afternoon, but the border remained shut, he said. “The atmosphere is tense” and “forces on both sides are alert”, he said.

Another local government official said light and heavy weapons, as well as mortars, were used in the incident.

The crossing at Torkham is a key trading waypoint, where Afghanistan exports truckloads of coal and receives food and other supplies from Pakistan.

The crossing has been closed several times in recent years, including a closure in February that saw thousands of trucks laden with goods stranded on each side of the border for days.

Both nations are in dire economic straits, with Afghanistan reeling from a drop-off in aid following the end of the US-backed occupation and Pakistan crippled by a domestic downturn and runaway inflation.

Published in Dawn, September 7th, 2023

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