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Torkham Border Reopens After Nine Days Amid Soaring Tensions

Torkham, the main land border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan, reopened on Friday after a nine-day closure following a deadly clash between the two countries.

Pakistan shut the border after a gunfire exchange on September 6 that killed at least eight people and injured over 20 others on both sides.

The closure stifled Afghanistan’s exports to Pakistan with hundreds of vehicles stranded, costing traders millions of dollars. Many fruit and vegetable cargos were left to rot due to no cold storage facilities. Others were turned back and sold at half or lower prices in the local markets in Jalalabad.

Thousands of civilians, including children and the elderly, were also stranded on both sides, many of whom were forced to return home due to heat and lack of accommodation. Among them were Afghan families who were trying to seek medical treatment in Pakistani hospitals.

Islamabad blamed the Taliban for building an “unlawful” construction near the crossing while the Taliban denied the accusation, saying they were only repairing an old security outpost when Pakistani forces opened fire.  

The border crossing reopened on Friday after Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Taliban’s Foreign Minister, met with Pakistan’s Charge d’affair in Kabul the day before.

Soaring Tensions

The tensions between the Taliban and Pakistan have been soaring due to sporadic border disputes and Islamabad’s frequent accusations that the Taliban are harboring militant groups, particularly the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) fighters who launch attacks in its territory using Afghanistan soil—a charge the Taliban denies.

A day before the resumption of trade through Torkham, Pakistan blamed the Taliban for misusing the transit trade agreement between the two neighbors.

“We are concerned that the transit trade agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan is being misused,” Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, spokesperson of Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said in a briefing on Thursday. “It is important for our customs authorities to ensure that any border trade that takes place complies with the understandings and agreements that exist between Pakistan and Afghanistan and that such commercial activities do not contravene Pakistani laws.”

Baloch also said that the transit trade agreement between the two neighbors does not include overland trade between Afghanistan and India, referring to the Taliban’s Foreign Ministry statement that said traders had tried to send dry fruit to India via Wagah port in Pakistan after border closure at Torkham.

In the statement, the Taliban criticized Pakistan for causing hindrance at Karachi port and said it harmed bilateral trade and further “mistrust” and “distance.”

Baloch also expressed repeated concerns over cross-border terror attacks and the security threat emanating from Afghanistan by highlighting the Chitral attack that occurred on the same day as the border shooting erupted, leaving four Pakistani soldiers dead in the northwestern Chitral district near eastern Afghanistan. She indicated that such incidents have emboldened the TPP militants to carry out attacks on Pakistani soil.

The TTP, which shares ideological and operational ties with the Taliban, has been bolstered by the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021. The group, which has vowed allegiance to the Afghan Taliban, has surged its lethal attacks against Pakistani security forces and civilians in recent years.

According to Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS) terror attacks in Pakistan rose to 83% last month—the highest in a single month since November 2014. At least 99 terror attacks were carried out in August, resulting in 112 deaths and 87 injuries.