Thousands of Afghans enter Pakistan via Chaman border crossing

Medical patients and freed Afghan Taliban prisoners among thousands entering Pakistan from Afghanistan.

Thousands have crossed the Chaman/Spin Boldak border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan [Saadullah Akhtar/Al Jazeera]

Chaman, Pakistan – Thousands of Afghans have entered Pakistan through the Spin Boldak/Chaman border crossing in Afghanistan’s southeast after the Afghan Taliban’s takeover of the country earlier this week, including patients seeking medical attention and freed Afghan Taliban prisoners.

On Tuesday, the border remained open for all Afghans carrying valid Afghan identity documents or proof of being a registered Afghan refugee resident in Pakistan, Afghan travellers and authorities told Al Jazeera.

Among those crossing into Pakistan, there appeared to be a visible sense of relief at the end of hostilities in a war that has lasted almost 20 years, claiming an estimated more than 47,000 Afghan civilian lives since 2001, according to UN data and research conducted by the US-based Brown University.

“There is currently no area where there is violence, because all of Afghanistan is now in the hands of the Taliban,” said Abdullah, a resident of the city of Kandahar, who crossed into Pakistan on Tuesday.

“It’s peaceful now, and people are opening their shops, doing their business and going to their jobs, as well. There are no difficulties now.”

Abdullah said Kandahar had been under siege in recent days [Saadullah Akhtar/Al Jazeera]

Abdullah, who only uses one name, said that his hometown of Kandahar, a key conquest for the Taliban in its lightning offensive to retake control of the country from Afghan government forces during the last two months, was “under siege” several days ago.

“Things were very bad there, about four or five days ago there was a battle between the Taliban and [Afghan government] forces, and the whole city was under siege. But things are better now.”

Thousands crowded through a newly installed passage for Afghan travellers into Pakistan at Chaman, with people directed through a wire-link fence topped with barbed wire from the international border to a transportation hub located less than a kilometre away.

Many travelled with elderly relatives or others needing immediate medical attention, complaining of a lack of health facilities on the Afghan side of the border.

Sher Ahmad was one of those people, travelling from the city of Herat, more than 550km west of Chaman, with his younger brother, who suffers from a neurological condition.

“Recently many people are coming [to Pakistan] because there are no doctors there, they’ve all left since the war [ended],” Ahmad told Al Jazeera. “We have brought a patient with us to Pakistan who is in very bad condition.”

Of his native Herat, Ahmad said the Afghan Taliban were in complete control and that there were no further hostilities there.

“The whole area is completely under Taliban control and there are no issues,” he said.

Herat resident Sher Ahmad Herat said the Taliban was in full control of his native region [Saadullah Akhtar/Al Jazeera]

Many of those gathered at the border told Al Jazeera that they were there to receive relatives who had been released from Afghan prisons by the Taliban.

White Afghan Taliban flags fluttered in the breeze, as relatives garlanded the returning fighters.

“Now the Islamic Emirate is in government and there is no war any longer,” said Sanaullah, an Afghan Taliban fighter who returned to Pakistan on Tuesday. “The government of the Taliban is a lot better in Afghanistan.”

Sanaullah, who hails from the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta, about 90km southeast of Chaman, said he was captured in 2013 by Afghan security forces and imprisoned at the infamous Bagram prison, the same year US forces handed it over to the Afghan government.

Afghan Taliban fighters seized the prison and its attached airbase in July, days after US forces withdrew from the facility which had been the epicentre of the US and NATO military presence in Afghanistan.

“The Taliban came and freed us from prison, there were close to around 7,000 prisoners, and we were freed in about two hours by the Afghan Taliban,” Sanaullah said.

On Monday, Pakistani authorities said roughly 20,000 people used the Chaman border crossing, which is approximately double the regular daily traffic. Those people included about 13,000 Afghans who crossed into Pakistan, provincial official Zia Langove told Al Jazeera.

Pakistan is home to more than 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees, according to UN data, many of whom crossed into the country more than 30 years ago, after the Soviet invasion of the country, and others who entered in 2001 after the US invasion.

It is also home to an estimated two million more unregistered Afghan refugees, according to government estimates.

In July, Pakistan’s information minister said that Pakistan would not allow any new Afghan refugees to enter Pakistan’s heartland, with the government instead planning on establishing refugee camps near the border.

“In the past, Pakistan had an open 2,700km border with Afghanistan, which has now been fenced, and in case of new refugees, appropriate steps would be initiated to handle them in a systematic manner,” Fawad Chaudhry, the minister, said.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Langove, the provincial home minister in Balochistan province where Chaman is located, reiterated that stance.

“Our plan will be that whoever comes from there, those who do not feel safe, and are coming here hoping to be safe, we will absolutely let them into our country,” he said.

“Right now, our aim will be that whoever comes across the border, we establish camps near the border itself and we keep them restricted to those camps. Our meetings on this subject are ongoing, and hopefully, we will make a decision in one or two days.”

Chaman is one of two main border crossings between Pakistan and Afghanistan, with the second crossing present in the north at Torkham.

On Monday, Torkham was reopened for trade traffic, after a brief suspension when the Afghan Taliban captured it a day earlier, officials told Al Jazeera.

Pedestrian traffic at Torkham remained mostly suspended, however, as part of continuing COVID-19 related restrictions on the entry of Afghan nationals.

“There is a huge line of trucks on the Pakistani side, there was so much rush, it was much more than normal,” said Muhammad Fidah, a resident of the nearby town of Landi Kotal.

Additional reporting by Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder and Hameedullah Khan in Torkham.

Source: Al Jazeera