In a recent development, the Torkham border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan has been abruptly closed by Afghan authorities in protest against the installation of a ‘Welcome to Pakistan’ signboard at the crossing’s Zero Point.
The closure, which affects both vehicle and pedestrian traffic, is a significant blow to the vital trading relationship between the two countries. Torkham serves as a crucial waypoint for Afghanistan’s coal exports and the import of essential supplies from Pakistan.
This closure is not an isolated incident; tensions between the two nations have been escalating. In September, the border remained closed for two days following a skirmish between Pakistani and Afghan border forces.
The latest disagreement comes amidst Pakistan’s apparent shift in policy towards the Afghan Taliban, stating that it will no longer extend “special privileges” to the interim Afghan Taliban government. Islamabad’s previous role as the Taliban government’s spokesperson had drawn criticism, both domestically and internationally.
Shift in Pakistan’s Policy and Strained Bilateral Relations
Pakistan’s changing stance towards the Afghan Taliban marks a departure from its previous position of actively supporting the group. In the past, Islamabad had advocated for the lifting of sanctions against the Afghan Taliban government and facilitated trade and other incentives. However, recent developments indicate a recalibration of Pakistan’s approach, citing concerns that the Afghan Taliban is harboring entities deemed as “enemies.”
Furthermore, the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan is already strained due to the presence of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) sanctuaries across the border. Pakistan’s decision to repatriate Afghan individuals without refugee status or a visa has added fuel to the fire, leading to dissatisfaction on the part of the Taliban government and various Pakistani leaders.
Verbal Clash Over Signboard Leads to Closure
The immediate cause of the Torkham border closure appears to be a verbal clash between border security forces from both countries over the installation of a new gate and the accompanying ‘Welcome to Pakistan’ signboard.
According to a Pakistani official, the Afghan Taliban raised objections to the signboard, leading to the closure. The closure may disrupt not only bilateral trade but also regional trade, causing financial losses to traders on both sides of the border.
The closure adds to the already challenging situation for traders who rely on Torkham as a key transit point. This dispute unfolds amid the ongoing deportation of illegal Afghan refugees by Pakistan, further straining the bilateral relationship. As the closure impacts both commercial and pedestrian traffic, concerns are rising about the broader economic implications for the region.
As the Torkham border remains closed, the situation remains fluid, and the future of the trading point hangs in the balance. The strained relations, coupled with geopolitical complexities, contribute to an atmosphere of uncertainty.
This closure amplifies the challenges faced by traders and underscores the broader implications of political disagreements on regional trade and stability. The repercussions of this border dispute are not confined to the immediate closure but may have far-reaching consequences for the economic and diplomatic landscape between Afghanistan and Pakistan.