he primary border crossing connecting Pakistan and Afghanistan resumed operations on Friday morning, September 15, following a nine-day closure.
On September 6, Pakistani authorities had decided to shut down the border crossing located in Landi Kotal tehsil of the Khyber district. The move came in the aftermath of a violent confrontation resulting in the loss of two Afghan and one Pakistani officials.
According to the Pakistani authorities, a gunfight broke out when Pakistani officials stationed at the border tried to dissuade some Afghan officials from establishing a checkpoint on a restricted stretch. Tensions escalated when the officials tried to halt the construction of the checkpoint and there was gunfire from the Afghan side.
On September 10, the Taliban Ministry of Foreign Affairs released an official statement asserting that the gunfire had started from the Pakistani side. The next day, Pakistan’s Foreign Office contradicted the Afghan Foreign Ministry’s statement.
Izzatullah Shinwari, a Lahore-based journalist hailing from Landi Kotal, says that he had learnt about the incident from his father over a telephone call made mid-day on September 6.
Shinwari says that several Pashtun tribes including Shinwari and Zadran live on both sides of the border, particularly around Torkham. He says in many cases their livelihoods are linked to cross-border trade.
Khyber Deputy Commissioner Jamal Nasir had informed the press at one point that during the closure, 1,300 vehicles including cargo trucks were stranded.
Journalist Ajmer Shinwari says commerce across Torkham border includes transit trade as well as export and import. Afghanistan has a long standing transit agreement with Pakistan, enabling it to trade through Pakistani ports.
Pakistan exports a variety of goods to Afghanistan such as cement, mangoes, sports equipment, pharmaceuticals and plastic products. Afghanistan exports vegetables, fruits, beverages, coal and minerals to Pakistan.
The export volume at Torkham is estimated at $2.4 million dollars a day.
The closure of the border crossing left hundreds of people stranded on the border. These were mainly Afghan citizens who had crossed into Pakistan for medical treatment.
During the closure, a post about Yasin, a child from Nangarhar province of Afghanistan went viral on social media. Yasin had died of a brain tumour in Peshawar’s Hayatabad Hospital on September 7. After many people took to social media to demand that the child’s body be allowed to be taken to Afghanistan, border crossing via Kharlachi in Kurrum was arranged.
Ajmer said traders on both sides had suffered losses on account of the delay. He said the impact on the Afghan side was greater on account of a larger fraction of perishables. He said daily wage labourers at Torkham had also found themselves unemployed during the closure.
Waqar Afridi, a resident of Tirah in Khyber district, told TNS: “The closure cast a shadow over our livelihoods. It also affected the Afghan patients visiting Pakistan to seek medical treatment.”
Afridi said the closure also led to a significant hike in the prices of vegetables and fruits in Peshawar and Khyber region.
Mosam Jan, a vegetable vendor said that due to the closure of the border, the prices of all vegetables had gone up. He also said that when the vegetables and fruits arrived in Pakistan some of those had rotted.
Muhammad Tariq from Kurrum district, informed TNS that the closure of the Torkham border had resulted in a number of people heading to the Parachinar border.
The border between Pakistan and Afghanistan spans a staggering 2,600 kilometres. Disputes along this border have long been a source of tension between these neighbouring nations. Earlier, this year, the Afghan Taliban had sealed off the border on February 1.
Most of the trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan is through the Torkham and Chaman crossings. Other crossings such as Wana-Angur Adda in South Waziristan, Kharlachi in Kurrum and Ghulam Khan in North Waziristan exist and have facilitated bilateral trade.
The writer is a freelancereporter