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20 Feb 2023
John Hayward

NextImg:Taliban Shuts Down Pakistan Border Crossing amid Reports of Gunfire

The Taliban shut down Afghanistan’s main border crossing with Pakistan on Sunday, vaguely accusing Pakistan of failing to keep certain promises made to the Afghan junta.

Residents of the area reported hearing an exchange of gunfire on Monday, a report Pakistani officials confirmed.

The border checkpoint at Torkham in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, not far from the historic Khyber Pass, is the main crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan for both travelers and freight. The rest of the 1,600-mile border has been troublesome since long before the Taliban takeover in 2021, with frequent small skirmishes reported between Afghan and Pakistani patrols.

Nangarhar provincial official Siddiqullah Quraishi announced on Sunday that Afghanistan would close the border because Pakistani officials have not fulfilled promises to “create facilities for transit, sick people and passengers.”

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Afghanistan’s Khaama Press said Quraishi’s somewhat cryptic statement had to do with Pakistan refusing to accommodate Afghans looking for medical treatment across the border:

Although Taliban officials did not specify the commitment Islamabad allegedly breached, some unofficial reports emerged that the Taliban were annoyed by an unannounced ban on the tra­vel of Afghan patients seeking treatment in Pakistan.

Pakistan had closed the Torkham border crossing to Afghan patients, causing difficulties for people trying to enter the country for medical treatment on February 18, without providing any clear reasons.

As per the agreement between Islamabad and the Afghan Taliban, some 100 patients were allowed to enter the country on condition they had approval from the Taliban’s provincial health directorate of Nangarhar per day.

Another possible cause of the latest spat between the Taliban and Pakistan was Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari criticizing the regime in Kabul at the Munich Security Conference (MSC) over the weekend.

“We all want to see women receiving education in Afghanistan. We all want to see a more inclusive government in Afghanistan. The terrorist threat emanating from Afghanistan is worrisome,” Bhutto-Zardari said at the MSC.

“If the interim government in Afghanistan demonstrates the will to do that, we will have to find a way to build its capacity so that it can do so. They don’t have a standing army, they don’t have a counterterrorism force, they don’t even have a proper border security,” he said.

The Taliban Foreign Ministry slammed Pakistan for discussing such issues in a public forum instead of private diplomatic communications, and insisted Pakistan’s security fears were unfounded, because the Taliban has promised not to allow terrorists to attack other countries from Afghan soil.

Pakistanis living near the Torkham border crossing reported hearing gunfire on Monday. Two Pakistani regional security officials confirmed to Reuters that shots were fired, but they offered no further details about the engagement. Taliban officials claimed they had no knowledge of any border clashes.

An official in Torkham told Radio Free Europe (RFE) on Monday that Pakistani border guards came under fire from Afghan territory after the border crossing was closed.

“Separately, a gun battle erupted late on February 19 between Pakistani troops and Taliban forces in Durbaba, a town in the Afghan province of Nangarhar close to Torkham. One Taliban fighter was killed in the exchange of fire,” RFE added.

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