Torkham crossing stays shut for second day

Published September 8, 2023
TORKHAM: Men offer prayers under the shade of a truck laden with supplies meant for Afghanistan, on Thursday. Trucks and travellers were stranded on the check post after the crossing was closed following clashes on Wednesday.—Reuters
TORKHAM: Men offer prayers under the shade of a truck laden with supplies meant for Afghanistan, on Thursday. Trucks and travellers were stranded on the check post after the crossing was closed following clashes on Wednesday.—Reuters

• Islamabad, Kabul discussing matter at ‘high level’
• Offices, residential quarters near border point vacated
• Trucks containing fruit, vegetables returned due to possible delays

KHYBER: The Torkham border crossing remained closed for a second day on Thursday after clashes between Pakistan and Afghanistan border forces, leading to a build-up of trucks laden with goods.

The border crossing — the main transit point for travellers and goods between Pakistan and landlocked Afghanistan — had shut on Wednesday after a gun battle erupted between border forces, with both sides blaming each other for starting the firefight.

Sources in the border region told Dawn that security forces were not allowing anyone to go beyond the Michni checkpoint, which overlooks the border crossing from a high point near the Landi Kotal bazaar.

They said border forces had also vacated all offices and residential quarters near the border crossing late on Wednesday evening. Transporters were also asked to halt their movement towards the border until further orders.

Landi Kotal’s assistant commissioner, Irshad Momand, told Dawn the issue was being discussed at a higher level between Islamabad and Kabul “due to its global importance”.

“We normally tackle and resolve local issues during our meetings with the Afghan authorities at a lower level according to our mandate. But this [the current border suspension] is a sensitive matter and is now tackled at a high level,” he said.

He said the situation at Torkham was under control, but the cross-border movement remained suspended “until orders from above”.

Trucks loaded with multiple trade goods also returned to Landi Kotal or Peshawar as uncertainty prevailed about the reopening of the border. Azeemullah Shinwari, a local transporter, said that trucks carrying perishable products like fruit and vegetables were particularly advised to stop heading to the Torkham crossing due to possible delays.

Sources in Landi Kotal said some stranded Afghan families, including women and children, who had taken refuge in a local mosque were shifted to private homes by residents as a gesture of hospitality.

Meanwhile, border guards had refused to allow the bodies of an Afghan woman and a child to be taken to Afghanistan due to the border closure, officials said, adding that both had died of natural causes and their bodies were brought to Torkham to be shifted across the border.

‘Authorities determining reason for clash’

Abdul Basir Zabuli, a spokesman for the Taliban-led police in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province, where the crossing lies, said that authorities from both countries were trying to determine the reason for the clash, Reuters reported.

Ziaul Haq Sarhadi, director of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said hundreds of trucks laden with fruit, vegetables and other goods were stuck due to the closure. “The traders are suffering heavy losses,” he told Reuters. The entire trade flow had been affected and the loading of goods at the Karachi port had been disrupted.

Published in Dawn, September 8th, 2023

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