Torkham border crossing. Photo: The Express Tribune

Pakistan Closes Torkham Border to Afghan Patients Without Visas

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – Taliban local authorities in eastern Nangarhar province announce the closure of Torkham crossing for Afghan patients without passports and Pakistani visas.

In a video clip shared by the Taliban-controlled Bakhtar News Agency on Monday, March 11, Sediqullah Quareshi, the Taliban head of Information and Culture Directorate in Nangarhar, said that Pakistani border authorities had stopped permitting patients without legal documents to enter Pakistan since last Sunday.

The local Taliban official asks Afghan patients to refrain from visiting the special commission until further notice. The commission was previously assisting patients in entering Pakistan without legal documents.

The Torkham border crossing, situated between Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Afghanistan’s Nangarhar provinces, serves as one of the busiest routes for traders and people, especially patients.

In the past, Pakistani officials at the Torkham crossing permitted patients lacking passports and visas to enter the country, upon presenting an approval letter from the Taliban Ministry of Public Health.

This development comes at a time when thousands of Afghans, particularly cancer patients whose illnesses cannot be treated in Afghanistan, annually seek medical treatment in neighboring countries, especially Pakistan.

On the other hand, obtaining a Pakistan visa, including the medical visa, is highly challenging for Afghan applicants. Currently, a three-month Pakistani visa costs Afghan citizens between $700 to $1,000 in the black market.

Pakistan has recently tightened border controls on its nearly 2,600-kilometer-long frontier with Afghanistan in a bid to deter terrorist infiltration. The new measures require all Afghans to enter the country with valid travel documents and Pakistani visas.

The decision has sparked widespread demonstration among Pashtun tribes in the border areas in Pakistan who for decades were able to cross back and forth into Afghanistan with only national ID cards.

The Pakistani government, however, has been unmoved thus far.  Islamabad is concerned about the presence of a militant group, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has close ties with the regime in Kabul and has carried out several deadly attacks against Pakistani security forces and civilians in recent years.

The country accuses the Taliban of failing to uphold their commitment to the Doha agreement, which pledged to prevent any terrorist group from using Afghanistan to launch attacks on other countries. The Taliban has repeatedly denied the allegations.

The recent development exacerbates the increasing challenges faced by Afghans in Pakistan since the country initiated a crackdown on undocumented refugees last November. Reports indicate that over half a million Afghan refugees without valid documentation have been deported since the crackdown began.

The porous Torkham border experienced multiple closures in the last two years, occasionally leading to heightened tensions and armed clashes between border guards from the two sides.