Main Afghanistan-Pakistan border crossing closed after guards exchange fire

Gun battle erupts between Pakistani and Afghan forces, shutting the busiest trade crossing between the South Asian neighbours.

A general view of the border post in Torkham
A general view of the border post in Torkham, Pakistan [File: Alasdair Pal/Reuters]

The main border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan has been closed after security forces from both countries exchanged fire, officials said.

Local residents on the Pakistani side reported the sound of gunfire by the Torkham crossing on Wednesday and said people around the busy border area near the Khyber Pass had fled once the firing started.

There were no reports of casualties, and it was not immediately known why the border guards from the two sides exchanged fire, said Nasrullah Khan, an official in Torkham, a town in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

He said Pakistani government and military officials were in contact with their Afghan counterparts to defuse tensions.

The Torkham border point is the main point of transit for travellers and goods between Pakistan and landlocked Afghanistan.

Afghanistan Pakistan border

The crossing has been closed several times in recent years, including a closure in February that saw thousands of trucks laden with goods stranded on each side of the border for days.

A local Pakistan police official said firing started at about 1pm (08:00 GMT) at the Torkham border crossing, halfway between Islamabad and Kabul, with an evacuation ordered.

“It is not clear who is firing but we are receiving fire from both light and heavy weapons. They are using mortars, too,” said another local government official, adding one border guard had been wounded.

Irshad Mohmand, a local administration official, said the crossing was shut from the Pakistan side after a security dispute spiralled.

“Afghan forces tried to establish a checkpost in an area where it is agreed … that both sides will not establish a checkpost,” he told AFP news agency.

“After an objection from the Pakistan side, the Afghan forces opened fire,” he said, adding that Pakistan border forces responded with “retaliatory fire”.

Abdul Mateen Qani, the Taliban-appointed spokesman for the Ministry of Interior Affairs, confirmed the clash between Afghan and Pakistani forces. He said officials from both sides were attempting to find out what caused the clash and ways to prevent such incidents in the future.

Pakistani authorities said dozens of trucks carrying perishable items, including vegetables and fruits, were waiting on both sides of the border for the reopening of the Torkham crossing.

Afghanistan and Pakistan have had frosty relations since the Taliban returned to power in Kabul two years ago, with Islamabad accusing its neighbour of harbouring fighters carrying out strikes on its soil.

Disputes linked to the 2,600km (1,615-mile) border have been a bone of contention between the neighbours for decades.

The border closure comes two days after Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar ul Haq Kakar said military equipment left behind by the United States during its withdrawal from Afghanistan had fallen into armed groups’ hands and made its way to the Pakistani Taliban.

The Pakistani Taliban, known by the acronym TTP, has intensified attacks over the past months on Pakistan security forces. They are a separate group but an ally of the Afghan Taliban.

The Afghan Taliban took over power in Afghanistan in August 2021 as US and NATO troops were in the last weeks of a chaotic pullout from the country after 20 years of war.

Previous clashes at Torkham occurred after the two sides accused each other of trying to build new posts along the border.

A gun battle erupted at the crossing in February after Taliban authorities ordered the border shut, with both sides blaming the other for starting the firefight.

Pakistan says it has completed fencing along 97 percent of the border to stop cross-border attacks and smuggling.

Source: News Agencies