The Torkham border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan remained closed to trade for a fourth day on Tuesday, as the neighbors continue to differ over Islamabad’s demand for an end to all forms of undocumented cross-border travel.
With both sides blaming each other for the latest shutdown, thousands of trucks have been left stranded, many with perishable items, impacting trade and commerce.
The latest dispute stems from Pakistan’s demand for drivers on both sides to only cross the border if they have valid visas and passports, documents many Afghans lack. This is part of an ongoing drive by Pakistan to enforce its writ on its western border, with government officials stressing it is necessary to protect Pakistanis, as terrorists often infiltrate into the country without valid documents, hampering efforts to ensure security.
According to officials on both sides, talks are underway to resolve the issue, but there has been little headway, with the most recent round on Monday night yielding no results. During Monday’s meeting, according to local officials, the Afghan side sought relaxations for documentation of drivers and helpers of vehicles, claiming this was in the best interest of businessmen and transporters of both countries.
The Afghans also reportedly told the Pakistani side that suspending trade activities without prior warning was against social and international norms, and boosted tensions between the peoples of both countries, with a potential to impact bilateral ties. According to local media, the Afghan officials also warned that if the situation persisted, Kabul would have no option but to close the Torkham border “permanently.”
In response, the Pakistani side reportedly told Afghanistan that it had been over two months since Islamabad implemented its demand for documented travel and Kabul had repeatedly refused to cooperate. Officials also said that it was not possible to relax travel conditions so long as Kabul was unwilling to provide data on Afghan drivers and their helpers to the Pakistani Embassy in Afghanistan.
Ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan have been increasingly strained in recent months, with Islamabad accusing the Taliban government of sheltering terrorists on its soil and not preventing attacks on Pakistan. Kabul maintains the security issue is an “internal” concern of Pakistan and has repeatedly sought to delink it from trade and cross-border travel.