Afghanistan reopens key Pakistan trade route, Islamabad to follow

The decision to reopen the Torkham border crossing came a day after a high-level Pakistani delegation met Taliban officials in Kabul.

Islamabad, Pakistan – The Taliban government in Afghanistan has reopened a key border crossing with Pakistan after four days of closure that saw thousands of trucks carrying food and other items stranded at the frontier.

Pakistani authorities on Thursday said they will also open their side of the Torkham crossing after completing the “administrative requirements”.

“We are just completing the necessary documentation and other administrative work before reopening the gate, which is expected in another few hours,” a Pakistani security official posted at the crossing told Al Jazeera, requesting anonymity.

The decision to reopen the border crossing came a day after a high-level Pakistani delegation, led by Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, visited Kabul on Wednesday to discuss security and other matters.

The Pakistani delegation, which also comprised spy agency chief Lieutenant General Nadeem Anjum, met Afghanistan’s acting deputy prime minister for economic affairs, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, and other Taliban officials.

Hours later, the Afghan embassy in Islamabad tweeted that the Torkham trade route, closed since Sunday over a “breach of commitments” by Islamabad, will be reopened on Thursday morning.

Pakistan Afghanistan Torkham crossing
Stranded trucks parked along a highway near Torkham border crossing point in Pakistan [Qazi Rauf/AP]

Qari Nazim Gul, trader and leader of the All Pakistan Customs Agents Association, said thousands of trucks were stranded on the Pakistan side since Sunday night.

“The queue stretches back to more than 30km [19 miles]. The Afghan side opened their gate this morning and we were told earlier today that the gate will be opened by midday. But we are still just waiting for it to reopen from our side,” he told Al Jazeera.

Ziaul Haq Sarhadi, director of Pakistan Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said he was hopeful the border crossing will be reopened on Thursday.

“We have been informed that there are preparations going on, and hopefully, the gates will be opened sometime later in the day,” he told Al Jazeera.

With thousands of trucks stuck at the border, Sarhadi estimated the losses to traders on both sides could go into billions of rupees.

“As a country, we need to resume our exports. We need the borders reopened at the earliest. We have already lost billions of rupees due to this shutdown,” he said.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share a 2,600km-long (1,615 miles) border.

The Taliban said it shut the Torkham crossing over Islamabad allegedly denying Afghan migrants entry into Pakistan for medical care.

Pakistan, meanwhile, accuses the Taliban of sheltering armed attackers belonging to the outlawed Pakistan Taliban, also known by the acronym TTP. The Afghan Taliban rejects the claim.

In recent months, the TTP has been blamed for a spike in violent attacks across Pakistan, killing dozens of people.

Wednesday’s meeting in Kabul was held against the backdrop of the attacks by the TTP, which is ideologically aligned with the Afghan Taliban and has been waging a battle against the Pakistani state since 2007.

In a statement, Pakistan’s foreign office said matters related to the “growing threat of terrorism” in the region, “particularly by the TTP”, came under discussion. “The two sides agreed to collaborate to effectively address the threat of terrorism posed by various entities and organisations,” it said.

Mehmood Jan Babar, an analyst on Pakistan-Afghan relations, said the Afghans want travelling to Pakistan made easier.

“Pakistan says it will provide ease of access only to students and those in need of medical assistance in order to control an influx of Afghan citizens into the country,” he told Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera