Tue. Jul 16th, 2024

Afghani and Pakistani officials have traded blame over the closure of a key border crossing last week after cross-border firing.

The Taliban on Tuesday rejected Pakistani government accusations that they are to blame for the closure of the Torkham border crossing, which is the main point of transit for travellers and goods between Pakistan and landlocked Afghanistan.

Hundreds of trucks carrying essential goods have since been stranded on both sides since the crossing in Pakistan’s northwest was shut down after an exchange of fire in a dispute over an under-construction Afghan outpost.

A Foreign Ministry spokesperson in Islamabad on Monday had accused the Taliban of building unlawful structures and indiscriminate and unprovoked firing. The spokesperson, Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, also repeated claims that Afghanistan allows its soil to be used for “terror” attacks on Pakistan.

The two countries have been trading blame for months over border issues and armed attacks that Islamabad says emanate from Afghan soil.

Baloch’s remarks have infuriated the Taliban, with one ministry official calling the Pakistani government “impotent” because it cannot guarantee the country’s security.

Abdul Mateen Qani, a spokesman for the Taliban-led Afghan Interior Ministry, said such incidents happen at borders. “In this case, we did not attack,” he told The Associated Press news agency.

“When we were attacked, we defended ourselves and this is our right. It is a matter of regret that Pakistan has not been able to ensure its security and is putting its problems on Afghans, that we are interfering. This is the reason for their impotence: they cannot ensure their own security.”

Bilal Karimi, the deputy spokesman for the Taliban administration, also condemned the Pakistani Foreign Ministry remarks. He said Pakistan’s internal problems are its own, and that their causes and roots should be found within Pakistan.

“Our responsibility is to ensure security in our country and not attract security threats,” he told the AP. “We hope the focus will be on good neighbourliness and the economy. The door of good relations should be open.”

Leaders from both sides have been meeting to resolve the issue.

‘I have no money left’

Meanwhile, hundreds of trucks and travellers remained stranded by the border on Tuesday.

The Pakistan side of the border – usually bustling with pedestrian and truck traffic – was abandoned on Monday, with markets and offices shut and crowds of travellers sheltering in nearby mosques.

Pakistan is in the grip of an economic downturn, while Afghanistan is still struggling to revive its economy due to its international isolation more than two years after the Taliban took over Kabul.

Footage aired on Pakistani local broadcaster Geo News showed long queues of trucks loaded with trade goods.

Pakistan
Men offer prayer under the shade of a truck loaded with supplies to leave for Afghanistan as they are stranded after the main Pakistan-Afghan border crossing closed following clashes [Fayaz Aziz/Reuters]

Jamal Nasir, a deputy commissioner in the Khyber district, said 1,300 vehicles, including trucks and trailers, were sitting idle waiting for the international trade hub to reopen.

“Fruit and vegetable trucks have been turned back because their cargo was either rotten or feared to rot,” he told AFP news agency.

Ghani Gul, a 55-year-old Afghan, was still stranded in Pakistan six days after attempting to return home after receiving medical treatment in Peshawar.

“I am stuck here, and I have no money left,” he said. “Why should I suffer from the border closure? Both countries should do what they want, but at least leave the border open for common people.”

Last week, Khan Afridi, president of the Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industries, said the closure of the Torkham crossing had already caused the loss of a “lump sum” of $1m.

Meanwhile, on the Afghan side, officials and residents staged a small protest on Monday, marching towards the closed border gates.

“Pakistan should not involve traders in politics,” said truck driver Siddiqullah, who goes by one name. “How are traders and the poor at fault?”

Pakistan was one of only three nations to grant formal recognition to the previous Taliban government of 1996-2001.

But like all other countries, Pakistan has withheld recognition of the current Taliban administration. Diplomatic ties have also frayed over frequent flare-ups along their border, including sporadic gunfights and crossing closures.

Islamabad also complains Kabul is failing to secure its frontier – a colonial-era demarcation that every Afghan government has disputed – allowing armed group fighters to cross and strike on Pakistan’s soil.

There was an increase in attacks of almost 80 percent in the first half of 2023 compared to last year, according to the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies.

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By Joy

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