Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Torkham border trade halts amid Pakistan-Afghanistan visa dispute

Bilateral trade and business activities between Pakistan and Afghanistan through the Torkham border crossing were suspended for a second consecutive day on January 15, after both sides failed to resolve visa restrictions on transporters, a senior police officer and customs agent told media.

Torkham border crossing, located in the Khyber District of Pakistan and Nangarhar province of Afghanistan, is crucial for trade, transit, and people traveling between the two neighboring countries.

The crossing has been closed for trade since Friday night over visa rules for commercial truck drivers, leaving several trucks stranded on both sides of the border.

“The [Torkham] border has been closed for the last three days for transit goods and heavy vehicles,” Naheed Khan, a police officer at the border, told Arab News. “But pedestrians’ movement continues on both sides of the border.”

Khan said the crossing was closed on Friday after Pakistan stopped Afghan commercial vehicle drivers and their assistants from entering the country without passports and visa documents.

“Still the issue hasn’t been taken up for discussion on a high level,” he added.

Consequently, Taliban border officials also restricted Pakistani truck drivers from entering Afghanistan, aggravating tensions between border officials of the neighboring countries, an Afghan customs clearing agent told media.

Long queues of vehicles carrying perishable goods like fruits and vegetables are stranded on both sides of the border, causing significant financial losses for traders and impacting the economies of both countries, Hajji Usman, a member of the Nangarhar Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said.

“We don’t know why both sides fail to address this critical issue once and for all,” he told Arab News. “Look, today’s war isn’t fought with weapons and ammunition but you have to fight if you are economically strong. Virtually, this Torkham border is like the sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of traders and businessmen constantly,” Usman added.

A Pakistani customs clearing agent at Torkham Asghar Ali said while trade activities were at a standstill, it is feared that the border could remain closed for weeks.

“Even some truckers want to divert their trucks loaded with perishable items back to Peshawar for safe storage because the border could remain shut for long,” Ali told Arab News.

The abrupt closure of the border has resulted in trucks loaded with cement, oranges, and vegetables remaining stranded on both sides, he added.

“Traders, businessmen and even both governments are at a loss,” Ali said. “There is always uncertainty among traders and transporters about this border which discourages traders.”

The Torkham crossing was frequently shut in the past as well. It was temporarily closed last year after Islamabad initiated an extensive operation against undocumented Afghans residing in Pakistan.

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