Afghanistan's Taliban reopen key trade route with Pakistan

Officials say Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban have reopened the key Torkham border crossing with Pakistan after keeping it shut for four days

February 23, 2023 05:46 pm | Updated 05:46 pm IST - PESHAWAR, Pakistan

The Torkham gate is seen from the zero point at the Torkham border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Nangarhar province on February 23, 2023.

The Torkham gate is seen from the zero point at the Torkham border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Nangarhar province on February 23, 2023. | Photo Credit: AFP

Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers reopened a key border crossing with Pakistan Thursday, allowing thousands of trucks carrying desperately needed food and other items to creep forward for the first time in days, officials said.

The jam at the Torkham crossing between the two nations began to ease after Islamabad sent a high-level delegation to Kabul to discuss a range of issues, including the Taliban's closure of the border on Sunday.

Taliban-appointed officials in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province confirmed the reopening of the Torkham border. The Afghan embassy in Pakistan also posted news of the reopening on Twitter.

Thousands of vehicles, some carrying fresh produce like vegetables and fruit, began moving along the Khyber Pass in northwest Pakistan Thursday, said Ziaul Haq Sarhadi, a director at the Pakistan-Afghanistan joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The latest development comes a day after Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif made an unannounced visit to Kabul, where he met with senior Taliban officials, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban-appointed deputy prime minister for economic affairs.

The group discussed the closure of Torkham, which the Taliban said Sunday was shut because of immigration issues faced by sick Afghan people on the Pakistani side of the border, according to officials on both sides.

On Monday, security forces from the both sides traded fire, wounding a Pakistani soldier.

The Taliban government said they closed the Torkham border crossing because of Pakistan’s alleged refusal to allow Afghan immigrants and their caretakers to enter Pakistan for medical care without travel documents.

For Pakistan, the Torkham border crossing is a vital commercial artery and a trade route to Central Asian countries. But Pakistan has also accused the Afghan Taliban of providing sanctuary for Pakistani militants whose cross-border attacks have led to a spike in violence in this Islamic nation.

A statement issued by Baradar's office Wednesday said the Afghan Taliban told the Pakistani delegation that “necessary facilities should be provided for all passengers” at Torkham and also at Spin Boldak, another trade route located to the south, across from Chaman in Pakistan’s restive southwestern Baluchistan province.

Baradar said special facilities should be provided for the transportation of patients needing emergency medical care, according to the statement, which said the Pakistani side promised to resolve these matters quickly.

The reopening of Torkham was a relief for the traders and others on both sides who were jammed at the border for four days. It was also an indication of easing tensions between the two neighbors.

Closures, cross-border fire and shootouts are common along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

According to Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, the Pakistani delegation during Wednesday's visit also discussed "the growing threat of terrorism in the region," particularly by Pakistani Taliban who are known as Tahreek-e Taliban-Pakistan and Islamic State.

The Pakistani Taliban are a separate group, but allied with, the Afghanistan Taliban, who seized power more than a year ago as the U.S. and NATO troops withdrew. The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan emboldened TTP, whose top leaders and fighters are hiding in the country.

TTP in recent months has stepped up attacks in Pakistan, where security forces often carry out raids on their hideouts. In the latest raid in the northwestern district of Lakki Marwat, security forces on Thursday killed six Pakistani Taliban, according to police.

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