ISLAMABAD/KHYBER AGENCY: Pakistan on Monday ordered the border with Afghanistan to be reopened 'immediately', a month after it was closed amid soaring tensions as Islamabad and Kabul accused one another of providing safe haven for militants.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered the two main crossings on the long, porous border be reopened as a gesture of 'goodwill', a statement from his office said.
The crossings - Torkham at the famed Khyber Pass and Chaman in Balochistan province - were closed last month after a wave of militant violence killed 130 people across Pakistan.
The attacks, most of which were claimed by the Islamic State group or the Pakistani Taliban, dented optimism after the country appeared to be making strong gains in its decade-and-a-half long war on militancy. Pakistan's military as well as the civilian government swiftly pointed fingers at Afghanistan, blaming Kabul for harbouring those behind the attacks.
Afghanistan has long accused Pakistan of providing safe haven to the Afghan Taliban, and the claim sparked a diplomatic furore as both countries traded allegations.
The statement from PM Office called for the border to be reopened 'despite' the accusations, citing 'centuries-old' religious, cultural and historic links.
"We hope that Afghan government will take all necessary actions to end the reasons for which this step was taken," Sharif said, adding that lasting peace in Afghanistan was essential to Pakistan's security.
The premier was of the view that the prolonged closure of the Pak-Afghan border was against the interests of the people and economies of the two countries. The two nations are divided by the Durand Line, a 2,400-kilometre frontier drawn by the British in 1896 and disputed by Kabul, which does not officially recognise it as an international border.
Tensions along the frontier have been simmering for months, after hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees in Pakistan were repatriated last year, with Human Rights Watch accusing Islamabad of coercion, threats and abuse.
Pakistani attempts to control the previously open border and implement customs duties have also sparked complaints from traders used to crossing with impunity. The Pakistani government estimates that undocumented trade on the border exceeds $2.5 billion annually. Despite orders by the prime minister, the Torkham and Chaman crossing points were not formally reopened till the filing of this report.
When contacted, Passport Political Tehsildar of Torkham Shamsul Islam said that the administration had not received any written notification pertaining to reopening of crossing point so far. He further said that the border will be reopened after receipt of formal notification in this regard.
The customs official deployed at the Torkham border while commenting over the PM announcement said they were ready to make clearance of stranded vehicles loaded with export and import commodities on either side of the border just in an hour.
The announcement has brought happiness on the faces of traders, businessmen and people from both sides of the border.
Following the announcement, Afghan Ambassador Dr Omar Zakhilwal said Pakistan had opened the border unconditionally in accordance with the agreement reached in the last week's high-level talks in London.
Britain hosted Pakistan Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz and Afghan National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar on Thursday to defuse tensions between the two uneasy neighbours.
"We had pursued implementation process of the agreement on the opening of the border and other important issues over the past three days," he said on his official Facebook account. He did not offer any comment on other issues.
Earlier this month, Pakistan had temporarily opened the border at Torkham and Chaman to allow stranded Afghan nationals to return to their country. The border crossings were opened on March 7 and 8, 'in order to provide an opportunity to those nationals of Afghanistan who had come to Pakistan on valid visas and wish to return to their country', a Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release had stated.
Afghan authorities, including ambassador Zakhilwal, had also urged Pakistan to reopen the border as the closure was causing 'a humanitarian crisis'. afp/our correspondent.