ISLAMABAD: Afghanistan’s envoy in Islamabad on Saturday said he will urge his government to arrange special flights to airlift Afghan nationals stranded in Pakistan if the country did not reopen the border within two days.
Pakistani authorities closed the border with Afghanistan on February 16 after 88 people were killed in a suicide bombing at the shrine of popular Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan, Sindh. A high-level huddle of the civil and military leaders on Friday decided to keep the border close till adjoining regions are purged of remnants of terrorists.
Afghan officials say the move has stranded hundreds of Afghan citizens who entered Pakistan last month for business or medical purposes.
Speaking to The Express Tribune on Saturday, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal said he had once again pressed Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz to reopen the border in their second meeting in the last three days.
Zakhilwal also met Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan to seek his support towards this end.
“Closure of Pak-Afghan border is building into a humanitarian crisis. The two governments need to cooperate effectively on cross-border terrorism,” Imran tweeted after meeting the Afghan envoy on Saturday. “Those with valid travel documents and perishable goods should be allowed to cross the border to mitigate suffering of ordinary people on both sides,” the PTI leader said on the microblogging website.
Zakhilwal charged that the border closure “cannot have any other explanation except to be aimed at hurting common Afghan people.” However, in a statement posted on his official Facebook account, the envoy claimed the closure was hurting Pakistan’s economy more. “Pakistan’s declining export share in Afghanistan is indicative of that.”
The ambassador contended that the continuous closure of trade routes “goes in direct contradiction to the theme and objectives of the recently held ECO summit that Pakistan hosted and led.” He did not agree with the argument that the border closure is necessary to prevent terrorists’ movement, saying crossing points like Torkham and Spin Boldak were manned by hundreds of military and security personnel.
Zakhilwal said Pakistani authorities had repeatedly assured him that the crossing points would be partially opened to allow the around 25,000 Afghan visitors stranded in Pakistan to return to their country. “But this hasn’t happened yet.”
Because of this, the envoy said he had told Sartaj Aziz that he would ask his government to arrange chartered flights for the stranded Afghans if the border was not reopened, at least partially, in two days’ time.
Imran calls for resuming talks with Kabul
After his meeting with Zakhilwal at his Bani Gala residence in Islamabad, Imran Khan urged both Pakistan and Afghanistan to resume dialogue to improve their worsening ties.
“Both governments are required to engage in serious dialogue to resolve pending issues,” read a statement issued by PTI’s central media wing after the meeting. “Pakistan should take immediate measures to ensure the return of Afghan nationals trapped inside Pakistan due to the sudden closure of Afghan border with Pakistan,” it quoted Imran as saying. The PTI chief also called for measures to minimise the loss of traders due to the border closure.