Taliban close border crossing with Pakistan, call for visa-free travel for Afghans

Kandhar shadow governor says crossing will remain closed for all types of commuting, including transit and trade


Reuters August 06, 2021
People standing on a vehicle hold Taliban flags as people gather near the Friendship Gate crossing point in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border town of Chaman. PHOTO: REUTERS

QUETTA/ KABUL:

The Taliban closed a key border crossing with Pakistan on Friday, saying no one would be allowed through until Islamabad dropped or relaxed its visa requirements for Afghans.

The Taliban, wresting control of Afghanistan in the wake of a withdrawal of US and other foreign troops, last month captured the southeast Chaman-Spin Boldak border crossing from Afghan forces.

Pakistan initially closed its side of the crossing, landlocked Afghanistan's second busiest entry point and main commercial artery to the sea, before reopening it last week.

But since the Taliban took control of Chaman-Spin Boldak, Pakistani border officials there have begun enforcing visa requirements for Afghans which previously were not as strictly observed.

In a statement on Friday, the Afghan Taliban statement called on Pakistan to scrap all visa requirements for Afghans.

"(The crossing) will remain closed for all types of commuting, including transit and trade, for both sides, and pedestrians, until the Pakistani side leaves the gate open, morning to evening, for Afghans holding [Pakistani issued] migration cards or [Afghan] ID cards," the insurgent group's shadow governor for Kandahar province said in the statement.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said the group's leadership had endorsed the move, and on Friday the border had been closed.

Also read: Chaman border closed after Taliban advance

Since US-led foreign troops began leaving Afghanistan earlier this year, fighting between the Taliban and Afghan forces has escalated significantly. In recent weeks, the Taliban have advanced rapidly on provincial capitals and targeted top government officials inside Kabul.

The insurgents have also taken control of several border crossings, including with Iran and Central Asian countries, but the crossing with Pakistan provides a significant customs revenue.

Ensuring it is open for visa-free travel would not only curry favour with ordinary Afghans, but also shore up a route to parts of Pakistan.

Afghan government data indicates the route was used by 900 trucks a day before the Taliban seized it.

The closure could impact import of medicines and other essential goods as violence has sharply escalated in Afghanistan amidst a pandemic, with the United Nations saying hundreds of thousands have been displaced internally.

Spokespersons for Pakistan's foreign and interior ministries did not respond to requests for comment from Reuters.

Pakistani border officials at Chaman told Reuters the Taliban had placed concrete barriers to block the road on their side of the Friendship Gate, the crossing point between the two countries.

Pakistan responded by closing its side of the border on Friday, leaving pedestrians, passenger vehicles, and cargo trucks stranded.

Many Afghans living in Pakistan have been issued migration cards by Islamabad allowing them to stay, but those who want to enter Pakistan today need to obtain a visa.

Pakistan is considered key in convincing the Taliban to participate meaningfully in the peace talks with the Afghan government.

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