A LARGE number of trucks loaded with goods stand in a queue as they await the reopening of the Pak-Afghan Torkham border, in Landi Kotal, on Monday.—PPI
A LARGE number of trucks loaded with goods stand in a queue as they await the reopening of the Pak-Afghan Torkham border, in Landi Kotal, on Monday.—PPI

ISLAMABAD / KHYBER: As the Torkham border remained shut for a sixth consecutive day, with loaded vehicles seen parked along the roadside for several kilometres on the Torkham-Peshawar highway, Pakistan regretted the attempt by the Taliban-led interim government of Afghanistan to intrude on its territory by building an unlawful structure, and urged the neighbour to respect its sovereignty.

On September 6, Afghan troops resorted to indiscriminate firing, targeting Pakistan military posts, damaging the infrastructure at the Torkham border terminal, and putting the lives of both Pakistani and Afghan civilians at risk, instead of working out a peaceful resolution, when they were stopped from erecting such unlawful structures, Foreign Office (FO) spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch regretted.

Responding to questions about the statement by Afghanistan on the border’s closure, she said it came as a ‘surprise’, as the interim Afghan authorities knew fully well the reasons for the ‘temporary closure’.

She said the statement of the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs also included some irrelevant comments and unsolicited advice about Pakistan’s economy and foreign trade. For several decades, Pakistan had facilitated Afghan transit trade and would continue to do so, but the misuse of the transit trade agreement could not be allowed, the FO spokesperson said.

Islamabad takes umbrage at ‘unsolicited advice’ from Taliban regime; cost of Torkham closure estimated at Rs360 million so far

Constructive dialogue

“Pakistan stands ready to resolve all bilateral issues and concerns through constructive dialogue so that both countries can reap the dividends of economic connectivity and resultant prosperity. We expect the Afghan interim authorities to be mindful of Pakistan’s concerns, respect the territorial integrity of Pakistan and ensure that the Afghan territory is not used as a launching pad for terrorist attacks against Pakistan,” she added.

However, she made it clear that Pakistan could not accept the construction of any structures on its territory, as this violates its sovereignty. Such unprovoked and indiscriminate firing on Pakistani border posts cannot be justified under any circumstances, she said, adding that the unprovoked firing by Afghan border security forces invariably emboldened terrorist elements, she said.

“Pakistan has continued to exercise restraint and prioritise dialogue in the face of persistent unwarranted provocations by Afghan troops deployed along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Temporary closures take place only in extreme cases such as the 6th September 2023 incident on the border or when Afghan soil is used to launch terror attacks inside Pakistan,” she said.

The Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs had described the border closure and “firing on Afghan security forces by Pakistan” as against good neighbourly relations.

In a statement, it accused Islamabad of continuously creating problems at Karachi port and said it closed Torkham crossing at the time of harvest for Afghanistan’s vegetables and fruits, which was an unjustifiable act and against all commitments made previously. “Such steps harm the trade and transit relations between the two countries,” the statement mentioned.

A day earlier, a meeting between Pakistani and Afghan border security officials to reach an agreement over the reopening of the Torkham border remained ‘inconclusive’, while transporters and stranded Afghans waited impatiently for a positive outcome of the talks.

Losses

Sources in Torkham said the failed dialogue between the Pakistan and Afghan border security officials dampened the spirits of the stranded Afghans and transporters.

The transporters, whose loaded vehicles were seen parked on the Peshawar-Torkham highway, argued they were worst affected by the closure of the border for almost a week. They complained they had to spend sleepless nights on the roadside while guarding their merchandise for fear of being looted besides facing acute financial problems after having exhausted travel expense provided to them by exporters and contractors.

Driver Said Nabi said he had to sleep on road for want of any lodging facility as locals were not allowing them to stay near their houses. “The biggest issue is water and food, as we have to travel either to Jamrud or Landi Kotal to buy the essential commodities for ourselves,” he said, before urging the two neighbouring countries to have mercy on the helpless transporters.

Hundreds of daily wage earners and porters also felt the heat of the skirmishes, as they were no more permitted to go close to the crossing.

With the bilateral trade coming to a halt, the loses Pakistan had incurred during the last six days had surged to Rs360 million, as the custom authorities received Rs6 million from import from Afghanistan on a daily basis. Afghanistan exports coal, fresh fruits and vegetables to Pakistan.

Also, custom officials at Torkham said goods worth $14.4 million could not be exported to Afghanistan during this period.

Published in Dawn, September 12th, 2023

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