AP

Pakistan, Afghan Taliban trade fire at border crossing

Feb 19, 2023, 9:17 AM | Updated: Feb 20, 2023, 12:27 am

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistani border guards and Afghan Taliban forces traded cross-border fire on Monday morning, officials said, a day after Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers closed the Torkham border crossing amid increasing tensions between the two neighbors.

There was no immediate word on casualties on either side.

On Sunday, the Afghan Taliban shut Torkham, a key trade route, over Pakistan’s alleged refusal to allow Afghan patients and their caretakers to enter Pakistan for medical care without travel documents, Pakistani security officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss border issues.

Khalid Khan, a local Pakistani police official, confirmed the border closure and what he described as intermittent exchanges of fire at Torkham, located in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Pakistan’s military and the Foreign Ministry made no immediate comments.

Mullah Mohammad Siddiq, a Taliban-appointed commissioner at Torkham, said Pakistan has not been abiding by its “commitments, so the crossing point was shut down.” He did not elaborate.

Siddiq advised Afghans to avoid traveling to the border crossing, located on Afghanistan’s side in the country’s eastern Nangarhar province, until further notice.

Cross-border fire and shootouts are common along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Each side has in the past closed Torkham, and also the Chaman border crossing in southwestern Pakistan, for a multitude of reasons. Both crossings are vital for landlocked Afghanistan for trade and travel.

The Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021 as U.S. and NATO troops were withdrawing from the country after 20 years of war. Like the rest of the world, Pakistan has so far not recognized Afghanistan’s Taliban government. The international community has been wary of the Taliban’s harsh measures, imposed since their takeover, especially in restricting the rights of women and minorities.

Pakistan has witnessed a surge in militant attacks since November, when the Pakistani Taliban ended a monthslong cease-fire with the government. The Pakistani Taliban — the outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP — is a separate militant group but allied with the Afghan Taliban.

Islamabad has demanded the Afghan Taliban stop offering sanctuary to Pakistani militants and prevent the launching of cross-border attack on Pakistan.

Since the Taliban takeover, the government in Islamabad has allowed critically ill or injured Afghans to enter Pakistan for medical treatment along with a limited number of caretakers.

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Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez in Islamabad contributed to this story.

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