Laskhar-e-Islam, which is sympathetic to the Taliban, stopped trucks along the highway, saying that drivers must stop trafficking alcohol and drugs across the border.

"For three days this has caused tremendous hardship for truckers and families," Hyder said.

"People have been stranded on the outskirts of Peshawar by the groups who are armed with assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades.

"This will be a serious issue for Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nato.

"The Khyber Pass is the main route for logistical supplies to reach Nato. If the road is blocked for a couple of weeks it will mean a logistical nightmare."

Deadline

Since March, more than 3,300 Afghans have left Jalozai for Afghanistan following an agreement between elders in the camp and Pakistani authorities to leave by April 15.

Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said the highway closure raised the need for more time for 70,000 Afghans living in the camp to repatriate or to go to another refugee facility in Pakistan.

UNHCR said refugees returning from southern
Pakistan are unaffected [GALLO/GETTY]
"UNHCR acknowledges that Jalozai must be closed as previously agreed and that its residents must co-operate by leaving on time.

"Nonetheless, we hope the Pakistani government can give them a little more time in view of the current impasse on the Peshawar-Torkham road," Redmond said.

"We have also urged the authorities to be more proactive on relocating Afghans who cannot return to Afghanistan," he said.

Redmond said that about 360 Afghan families who were cleared for repatriation from Peshawar have been unable to leave due to the roadblock.

UNHCR has given food, plastic sheets and blankets to the most needy families stranded at the border, he told a news briefing on Tuesday.

Afghans returning to Afghanistan were due to receive repatriation assistance of $100 per person from UNHCR upon their arrival, but have been unable to reach Afghanistan because of the roadblock.

Camp closure

Redmond said: "UNHCR will continue to work with the authorities to ensure that Jalozai's closure takes place in a peaceful and orderly way, and that the safety and dignity of its Afghan residents are respected."

Jalozai was scheduled for closure in 2006 for security reasons, along with three other camps in Pakistan, following an agreement between the Pakistani government, Afghanistan and UNHCR.

However, the closure was delayed after UNHCR and Afghan elders in the camp appealed to the Pakistan government to postpone the closure for humanitarian reasons, taking the deadline for closure to April 15.

More than five million Afghans have gone home from Pakistan and Iran since the overthrow of the ruling Taliban in 2001.

Two million registered Afghan refugees remain in Pakistan and one million live in Iran, according to the UNHCR.

Those who are registered in Pakistan and have a Proof of Registration (PoR) card have the right to stay in Pakistan until 2009, and any attempt to send them back by force would go against international law.