Afghan authorities close main border crossing with Pakistan over ‘welcome’ sign dispute 

In this photo taken on February 2, 2023, Afghan cargo trucks enter Pakistan at the Afghanistan-Pakistan Torkham border post, in Nangarhar province. (AFP/File)
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Updated 06 December 2023
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Afghan authorities close main border crossing with Pakistan over ‘welcome’ sign dispute 

  • Dispute arose after Afghan authorities claimed Pakistan erected signboard on Afghan soil, says Pakistani police officer
  • Development takes place amid increasingly fraught relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan over militancy, Afghan migrants

PESHAWAR: Afghan authorities closed the main border crossing linking their country to Pakistan in the wee hours on Wednesday, a police official confirmed, saying the dispute arose after Pakistani authorities set up a signboard at the crossing that Afghan officials said was erected on their side of the border.

The busy Torkham border is the main point of transit for travelers and goods between Pakistan and landlocked Afghanistan. The crossing has been closed several times in recent years, including a closure in September amid an armed clash between the border forces of the two countries. 

Pakistan and Afghanistan have had increasingly fraught relations in recent months, with Islamabad accusing the Taliban government of failing to root out militants staging attacks on Pakistan from Afghan soil. Kabul denies the claim. 

In response to the rising militancy, Islamabad has forced the deportation or voluntary transfer of Afghans it says are living illegally in the country, with more than 400,000 crossing over since October, according to the United Nations refugee agency. 

“The Pakistani side was installing a goodwill signboard (saying, ‘Welcome to Pakistan’) close to a checkpost on the Pakistani side, leading the Afghan authorities to close the border,” Naheed Khan, a police officer in Khyber District where the border crossing is located, told Arab News. 

“It has been closed since early morning today for transit and heavy vehicles while pedestrians continue to move on either side.” 

Fawad Ishaq, president of the Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industry, an apex body of businessmen and industrialists of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said a one-day closure of the border causes unprecedented losses to businessmen on both sides. 

He said the trade volume between Afghanistan and Pakistan fluctuated between $800 million-$1 billion annually, while the volume of undocumented trade between the two countries was as high as $7 billion annually. 

“The closure and reopening of the Torkham border is like s hide and seek game, which virtually makes people sick,” Ishaq told Arab News. He called for a meeting of a tribal council involving elders from both sides of the border, officials of both countries, and members of the business community from Afghanistan and Pakistan to tackle these issues. 

Hajji Usman, a senior member of the Nangarhar Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said following the closure, hundreds of heavy and small trucks as well as trawlers were stranded on both sides of the border. 

“A single-day closure leaves a negative impact on transit [trade],” Usman told Arab News. “These days Afghanistan exports coal, vegetables, and fruits. Officials on the border make an issue out of a non-issue and these kinds of daily tussles give birth to eternal hatred.” 

Khan said following the border closure at 2:00 a.m., officials from both sides had not contacted each other to reopen the crossing. “But I hope the issue will not flare up and will be settled by the border officials,” the police officer said. 

Quraishi Badloon from Nangarhar province’s information and culture department, however, told AFP negotiations were underway to reopen the border crossing. He claimed the signboard was erected on “Afghan soil.”

“Talks are ongoing to solve this problem,” he said. 

No government in Kabul has ever recognized the colonial-era demarcation between Afghanistan and Pakistan, leading to a long history of border disputes. 


Pakistan rebuts Indian claim of seizing narcotics from boat with suspected Pakistani links

Updated 10 sec ago
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Pakistan rebuts Indian claim of seizing narcotics from boat with suspected Pakistani links

  • Indian authorities this week claimed to seize a vessel off Gujarat carrying more than 3,000 kilograms of narcotics
  • Pakistan says the boat was operating in international waters near Omani coast, Indian Navy ship towed it till Gujarat

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Friday rebutted India’s claim of seizing a huge consignment of narcotics from a fishing vessel “off the coast of Gujarat” with suspected Pakistani links.

Indian authorities this week claimed to seize the vessel carrying more than 3,000 kilograms of narcotics and arrest five crew members who allegedly had links with Pakistan, according to a report published by the Times of Indian newspaper.

Describing the development as a “grand success,” Indian Home Minister Amit Shah said the operation making “the biggest offshore seizure of drugs” was a testament to Prime Minister Narendra Modi government’s commitment to making the nation drug-free.

The Pakistan Navy denied the Indian claim, saying the boat had been operating in international waters near the Omani coast and was towed by an Indian Navy ship till the Gujarat coast.

“It is clarified that information about the boat was provided to both Indian Navy and Pakistan Navy. The boat was actually operating in international waters near Omani coast and was heading south. Indian captured the boat and towed it from the western area of North Arabian Sea till coast of Gujarat,” Pakistan Navy said in a statement.

“Later on, information [was] released to media that boat was intercepted off Gujarati coast.”

Pakistan Navy said it had investigated the matter and the “orchestrated event speaks of malintent against Pakistan.”

Pakistan Navy and the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA) are fully capable of effectively preventing all sorts of illicit activities in Pakistani waters, it added.


Japan Moon lander put to sleep after surviving lunar night

Updated 02 March 2024
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Japan Moon lander put to sleep after surviving lunar night

  • The unmanned lander touched down in January at a wonky angle that left its solar panels facing the wrong way
  • As the sun’s angle shifted, it came back to life and carried out observations of a crater with a high-spec camera

TOKYO: Japan’s Moon lander has been put back to sleep after it surprisingly survived the freezing, two-week lunar night, the country’s space agency said, with another operation attempt scheduled for later this month.

The unmanned Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) touched down in January at a wonky angle that left its solar panels facing the wrong way.

As the sun’s angle shifted, it came back to life for two days and carried out scientific observations of a crater with a high-spec camera.

This week, the SLIM probe, which was “not designed for the harsh lunar nights,” when the temperature plunges to minus 133 degrees, produced another surprise by waking up after two weeks.

“SLIM has gone to sleep again as the sun set after 3 am (Japan Time) on March 1,” the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said on X, formerly Twitter, on Friday, alongside an image of the rocky lunar surface captured by the probe.

“Although the likelihood of failure will increase due to the severe temperature cycles, we will attempt SLIM operation again when the sunlight comes back in late March,” JAXA said.

The announcement comes after the uncrewed American lander Odysseus became the first private spaceship on the Moon.

The lander sent its final image on Thursday before its power banks depleted.

SLIM, dubbed the “Moon Sniper” for its precision landing technology, touched down within its target landing zone on January 20.

The feat was a win for Japan’s space program after a string of recent failures, making the nation only the fifth to achieve a “soft landing” on the Moon, after the United States, the Soviet Union, China and India.

The aim of the mission is to examine a part of the Moon’s mantle — the usually deep inner layer beneath its crust — that is believed to be accessible.

NASA is planning to return astronauts to the Moon later this decade.

The US, along with international partners, wants to eventually develop long-term habitats in the region, harvesting polar ice for drinking water — and for rocket fuel for eventual onward voyages to Mars.


Pakistan welcomes resumption of CASA-1000 power line in Afghanistan by World Bank

Updated 02 March 2024
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Pakistan welcomes resumption of CASA-1000 power line in Afghanistan by World Bank

  • The project aims to allow Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to sell excess energy to Pakistan and Afghanistan in summer months
  • Last month, the World Bank approved resumption of the project after it was stalled in 2022 due to turmoil in Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Friday welcomed resumption of activities in Afghanistan relating to a $1.2 billion Western-backed project to build a power line between Central Asia and South Asia, more than a year after it was stalled over turmoil in the neighboring country.

The CASA-1000 project aims to allow Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, former Soviet republics with an extensive network of hydroelectric power plants, to sell excess energy to Pakistan and Afghanistan in the summer months.

Last month, the World Bank, a key CASA-1000 backer, approved resumption of the clean energy project after it was stalled in 2022 due to turmoil in Afghanistan, with the Bank focusing on urgently needed education, agriculture and health programs.

It said construction of the project in the other three countries was nearly complete and these countries had requested that CASA-1000 activities in Afghanistan resume to avoid the risk of the project becoming a stranded asset.

“The Government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan welcomes the recent announcement by the World Bank that, among other initiatives in support of the people of Afghanistan,” the Pakistani energy ministry said in a statement.

“The Central Asia-South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Project (CASA-1000) in Afghanistan will be resumed as had been requested in December by all three neighboring countries participating in the project.”

The World Bank’s announcement of the project’s resumption was a “significant step forward” in the region’s commitment to energy collaboration, according to the statement.

The Pakistani energy ministry said Islamabad had signed a joint declaration along with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to thank the World Bank for its timely approval of the “ring-fenced” resumption of CASA-1000 construction in Afghanistan as well as to fully support the Bank in implementation of the parameters agreed with its board for the resumption of CASA-1000 construction activities in Afghanistan.

The project could be a boon for the two Central Asian nations which have excess power in the summer but suffer from shortages in the winter unless they can buy fuel or power from neighbors.

The United States was involved in financing the project when it was launched in 2016 as part of its New Silk Road initiative to integrate Afghanistan with Central Asia.

Other project sponsors have included the Islamic Development Bank, the UK Department for International Development, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.


Saudi Arabia gifts Pakistan 100 tons of dates ahead of Ramadan

Updated 53 min 14 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia gifts Pakistan 100 tons of dates ahead of Ramadan

  • Fasting during Ramadan is one of five pillars of Islam, wherein Muslims abstain from food and drink from sunrise till sunset
  • Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have strong brotherly relations and the Kingdom is home to over 2.7 million Pakistani expatriates

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia has gifted Pakistan 100 tons of dates ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, the Saudi embassy said on Friday.

Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, wherein Muslims abstain from food and drink from sunrise till sunset for a month. The Islamic lunar month will begin in March.

This is followed by the sighting of the new moon and is marked by Eid Al-Fitr, a religious holiday and celebration that is observed by Muslims across the world.

“In a gesture of goodwill, the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is delighted to offer 100 tons of dates to its esteemed brethren in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, following the recommendation of the esteemed leadership of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud,” the Saudi embassy said in a statement.

The consignment was handed over by Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador Nawaf bin Said Al-Maliki along with Abdullah Al-Baqami, director of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid & Relief Center (KSrelief) at a ceremony held at the Saudi embassy in Islamabad.

“This generous donation is intended for distribution among the Pakistani community during the holy month of Ramadan,” the statement read.

“This noble gesture exemplifies the enduring bond of friendship and brotherhood between the two nations, reflecting the spirit of generosity and solidarity cherished by both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.”

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong trade, defense and brotherly relations. The Kingdom is home to over 2.7 million Pakistani expatriates, serving as the top destination for remittances for the cash-strapped South Asian country.


Pakistani minister wants Organization of Islamic Cooperation to negotiate ceasefire with Israeli PM

Updated 02 March 2024
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Pakistani minister wants Organization of Islamic Cooperation to negotiate ceasefire with Israeli PM

  • Aneeq Ahmed says the unity of the global Muslim community can lead to a resolution of the Palestine issue
  • Pakistan’s foreign office said on Friday Israel must be held accountable for crimes against the Palestinian people

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Religious Affairs Minister Aneeq Ahmed described Pakistan as a “foremost supporter” of Palestine on Friday, saying that a delegation of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) should open negotiations with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to end the ongoing war in Gaza to reach an immediate ceasefire.
Ahmed issued the statement during a meeting with Palestinian Ambassador Ahmed Jawad Rabi’i, pointing out that Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkiye, Malaysia, Indonesia, Iran, Qatar, Egypt and Pakistan should take the lead in this regard.
Israel launched a military campaign targeting the Gaza Strip after a surprise attack was initiated by Hamas on October 7 in response to the deteriorating condition of Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation.
Since then, Israel has killed over 30,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children, prompting much of the world to point out it is carrying a genocide in Gaza.
“Aneeq Ahmed ... proposed that a delegation comprising of crucial Muslim countries, under the banner of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), should talk to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for immediate ceasefire,” the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) news agency reported.
“Pakistan stands as the foremost supporter of the Palestinian cause and will continue to do so,” the APP quoted the minister as saying. “The unity of the Muslim Ummah can lead to a resolution of the Palestine issue.”
Earlier in the day, Pakistan’s foreign office condemned the killing of over 100 Palestinians who were trying to get food from an aid convoy in Gaza City, saying the incident had highlighted Israel’s “deliberate and inhumane policy of mass starvation.”
It also said Israel must be held accountable for its crimes against humanity which it had been perpetrating with impunity against the Palestinian people.