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.