Afghan-Pakistan border crossing reopens after talks to settle clashes

By Mushtaq Ali and Mohammad Yunus Yawar

PESHAWAR, Pakistan/KABUL (Reuters) -The main land crossing on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan re-opened on Friday after a closure of nine days following shooting between guards on both sides, a senior Pakistani official told Reuters.

Thousands of travellers and hundreds of trucks laden with goods were stranded last week by the closure of the Torkham border crossing, at the western end of the fabled Khyber Pass.

“It’s opened for pedestrian and vehicular traffic,” Abdul Nasir Khan, deputy commissioner of Pakistan’s Khyber district, told Reuters.

A security official in Torkham said talks between the two sides had resolved the issue that sparked the clashes.

Spokespersons for Pakistan’s foreign ministry and authorities in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nangarhar confirmed the re-opening.

The road is a key lifeline for landlocked Afghanistan, linking the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar to Jalalabad, the main city in Nangarhar, and the route onwards to the capital, Kabul.

“The border closure was causing huge losses to traders and common people of the two neighbouring countries,” said Ziaul Haq Sarhadi, director of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Among dozens of families braving the heat and humidity in a bid to return home was an Afghan refugee, Mohammad Ismail, who had spent a week in a makeshift shelter in Peshawar with his wife and four children, waiting for the border to open.

“They’re not letting us go back,” Ismail told a Reuters photographer, saying that officials were not acknowledging his legal documents, although he had pleaded with them to let the family cross over and seek medical assistance.

“All my children have fallen sick,” he added.

The refugee family has been in Pakistan for the last three years.

Dozens more families in the queue also complained of very slow processing of documents. Lining the route nearby were hundreds of vehicles carrying perishable fruits, vegetables and other items.

Pakistan’s top diplomat in Kabul met the Taliban administration’s foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi to discuss the re-opening, the Afghan foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

In its account of the clashes at Torkham, Pakistan said the Taliban administration had tried to encroach on its territory with the construction of an “unlawful structure” and cited “indiscriminate firing” by Afghan forces.

The Taliban foreign ministry criticised the closure of the crossing and said Pakistan security forces had fired on its border guards as they fixed an old security outpost.

Ties between the neighbours have occasionally been testy, mainly because of border disputes and Islamabad’s accusations that militants launch attacks in its territory from bases in Afghanistan, charges that Afghan authorities deny.

(Reporting by Mushtaq Ali in Peshawar and Mohammad Yunus Yawar in Kabul; Additional reporting by Fayaz Aziz at Torkham; Writing by Gibran Peshimam and Asif Shahzad; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Clarence Fernandez)