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Afghan-Pakistan border crossing reopens

AFP . Torkham
15 Sep 2023 13:05:19 | Update: 15 Sep 2023 13:13:54
Afghan-Pakistan border crossing reopens
Pakistan's soldiers stand guard beside trucks at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in Torkham on September 15, 2023 — AFP Photo

The Torkham border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan reopened to pedestrians and vehicles early Friday, a senior official told AFP, more than a week after it was closed following a gun battle between frontier guards.

Islamabad and Kabul have been in diplomatic deadlock since September 6, when border guards opened fire at the crossing -- halfway between the two capitals -- in a dispute over an Afghan outpost being constructed.

"The clearance of trucks is in process and Afghan citizens are entering Afghanistan after clearance and passing immigration processes," Irshad Khan Mohmamd, assistant commissioner of Khyber district in Pakistan, told AFP.

An AFP team on the Afghan side of the border said crowds had gathered in anticipation of crossing to Pakistan, but the gates were still closed.

The crossing is the busiest for trade and people between the two nations, which share a porous 2,600-kilometre (1,600-mile) frontier that cuts through rugged mountains and valleys.

Traders on both sides complained that tonnes of perishable goods were lost because of the border closure, while Afghan travellers missed vital hospital appointments or flights out of Pakistan.

Each blamed the other for firing the first salvo last Wednesday, souring already poor relations between Islamabad and Afghanistan's Taliban rulers.

The border is a constant source of friction between the two nations, with Islamabad frequently complaining that Kabul has failed to secure its frontier -- a colonial-era demarcation that every Afghan government has disputed -- allowing militants to cross and strike on Pakistan's soil.

Afghan authorities have repeatedly denied the allegations.

The Pakistan side of the border had been at a standstill for days, with markets and offices shut and crowds of travellers sheltering in nearby mosques.

Officials said more than 1,300 vehicles, including trucks and trailers, were on the Pakistan side waiting to cross.

On the Afghan side, officials and residents staged a small protest earlier this week, demanding the border reopen.

The Pakistan foreign ministry said on Monday "unprovoked firing by Afghan border security forces invariably emboldens the terrorist elements."

"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," said spokeswoman Mumtaz Zahra Baloch.

The Taliban government's foreign ministry said at the weekend Pakistan's alleged attack on its border guards was "contrary to good neighbourliness."

"The closure of the gate cannot be justified under any circumstances," a statement read.