Re-opening of Afghan-Pakistani border welcomed by officials, citizens

By Adeel Saeed

Motorists wait to enter Afghanistan at the Torkham border crossing Tuesday (March 21), one day after Pakistani Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif re-opened the crossing. [Adeel Saeed]

Motorists wait to enter Afghanistan at the Torkham border crossing Tuesday (March 21), one day after Pakistani Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif re-opened the crossing. [Adeel Saeed]

PESHAWAR -- Pakistanis and Afghans are welcoming the re-opening of their countries' shared border, a month after it was closed for security reasons.

Nawaz Sharif ordered the re-opening of the Torkham and Chaman crossings Monday (March 20) with "immediate effect".

They had been closed except for a single two-day interval (March 7-8) since February 16, after a spate of terrorist attacks, including the suicide bombing of a Sufi shrine in Sindh Province, which killed more than 70 people.

Nawaz Sharif said the re-opening of the border was a "goodwill gesture" and expressed hope that Afghanistan will take "necessary steps" required to address the security concerns that led to closure of the border.

"Durable peace in Afghanistan is essential for peace and stability in the region," Nawaz Sharif said in a statement.

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Dignitaries and ordinary citizens of both countries welcomed the re-opening for both humanitarian and economic consequences, given that thousands of vehicles and individuals have been trapped at Torkham alone.

Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal lamented the economic damage done by the border closure, but expressed hope that the new solar year would bring about improvement in Pakistani-Afghan relations.

"I wish that this New Year brings peace to the region, especially Afghanistan and Pakistan," he said.

Pakistan and Afghanistan should concentrate on the positive aspects of their relationship that can benefit both sides in terms of trade and peace, he said according to Daily Times.

Zakhilwal praised the re-opening of the border, saying the people and traders on both sides should not suffer from the acts of governments.

Zia-ul-Haq Sarhadi, senior vice president of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry, termed the economic loss to both countries' businesses "enormous".

Assorted fines on halted cargo along the frontier could amount to as much as Rs. 2.5 billion to 3 billion ($25m to $30m), he told Pakistan Forward.

About 2,000 cargo containers headed for Afghanistan are languishing in Pakistan, he said, urging the Pakistani government to waive the various charges.

About 700 to 800 trucks containing perishable produce for Afghanistan are stranded at the Torkham and Chaman crossings, said Malik Sohni, president of the All Pakistan Agricultural Produce Traders' Association

"Businessmen fully realise the significance of national security," he told Pakistan Forward. "But such decisions should be taken without affecting economic activities."

Hopes for the future

Observers are hoping that the border re-opening leads the way to better relations between the neighbours.

The Torkham crossing is considered "a friendship gate", said Biryali Miankhel, president of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) chapter of the United Supreme Council of Afghan Refugees.

The resumption of cross-border movement has revived hopes for Pakistani-Afghan friendship and cordiality, he told Pakistan Forward.

"Afghans consider Pakistan their home even though we are refugees here," said Muhammad Khalis, a three-decade Afghan resident of Peshawar.

The border re-opening "will help remove the misunderstandings between Pakistan and Afghanistan and bring the peoples of both countries closer to each other", he told Pakistan Forward.

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