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Afghan nationals carry their passports as they wait to extend their visas outside the Pakistani immigration office in Peshawar on March 13, 2017, following the Pakistani Torkham and Chaman borders were closed with Afghanistan. A spike in tensions led to the border being closed following a spate of attacks in Pakistan, the deadliest of which was a suicide attack at a crowded Sufi shrine in Pakistan's Sindh province which killed 90 people, and which was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group. / AFP PHOTO / ABDUL MAJEED

Hardships at Torkham Made Miserable Lives of Common Men

By Shamim Shahid

Contrary to tall claims on the part of Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government of strengthening bilateral relations with Afghanistan by easing sanctions and restrictions against travelers, traders and transporters, the ground reality is different at Torkham and other crossing points. Almost people who are either regular visitors like people from trade or business communities or those Afghans who are visiting Peshawar for medical, education and other social purposes are being forced to remain for hours before clearance by immigration staffers and also treated like enemies or slaves by personnel of law enforcing agencies.

Unlike of India or Iran, nature of bilateral relations with Afghanistan is different. On both sides of Pak Afghan crossing points, almost Pushtoon and Baluch tribes are linked with relations and own joint ancestral properties in both the countries. Whereas the last four decades situation in Afghanistan has not only made depended majority of the Afghans in Pakistan but these people have established even cemented further their friendships, contacts and relations with Pakistani people. On such grounds, travelling and visits from both sides is much more than other neighboring countries from rest of the world.

Till 2014-2015, the movement on Pak Afghan crossing points remains open and only pedestrians have been stopped for identity on random basis. But the situation turned to another direction when Pakistan has imposed crossing restrictions against all those crossing over the line between the two countries. Despite imposition of these restrictions, Pakistan yet to take steps for ensuring due facilities and deployment of staffers for handling those thousands of people who are crossing over the line, thus causing  sever hardships.

The US and its allies helped both Pakistan and Afghanistan for construction of lounges and corridors for all those pedestrians and others, crossing over the line at Torkham, Chaman and other crossing points from the coalition support established while commencing war on terror soon after 9/11. But unfortunately, rulers from both the sides had failed in proper utilization of these complexes and corridors whereas the people are forced to remain on feet for hours.

Apart from others lacking of proper staffers and other facilities at FIA immigration and other Pakistani public organs is the major issue at Torkham. Only a few less than five counters are operating for all those people who are entering Pakistan at Torkham whereas the exits counters are only two or three. Likewise is the position of staffers. Ultimately due to shortage of staffers and limited number if immigration counters, the pedestrians including women, children, aged people and patients are compelled to remain inside for hours in tunnel like corridors for several hours.

Compare to hardships in Pakistan side, the situation is different across the line in Afghanistan. Due to less formalities, the pedestrians from Pakistan are cleared with in half to one hour time for entry into Afghanistan. But from Afghanistan, the clearance process is completed in several hours. Even due to these complications, a large number of pedestrians are preferring to remain for overnight stay in this iron-made tunnel amidst chilly cold and rough weather in a bid of chances early on second day morning.

At once, Prime Minister Imran Khan has directed to keep open Torkham line around the clock from August 2019 last but such directives yet to be complied. Now a days, the pedestrians are allowed to cross over the line four days whereas no one is allowed to travel on remaining three days. In past, from 15000 to 20,000 Afghans have to be entering Pakistan and similar was position from this side. But now from both sides, the number of pedestrians is ranging from 10,000 to 13,000. 

Pakistan has already made mandatory the Corona test from both sides, which is considered a major source of “money” for some of the staffers especially health department employees in District Headquarter Hospital at Landi Kotal Khyber. All tests in return of RS 1000 are negative and now was stopped on such grounds. But the Corona test has also affected visitors from Afghanistan.

Besides others, the lacking of proper immigration counters and staffers are considered major problem before all those travelling between the two countries. But along with, indifferent attitude on the part of personnel of security forces and National Logistic Cell (NLC) also affecting the bilateral trade and travelling between the two neighboring countries. The NLC is an affiliated body of Armed Forces. Earlier the NLC was used for shifting WFP and other UN and US led allied countries logistic aid for the Afghan refugees but now from last several years, it was assigned the task of looking after “bilateral trade, travelling and other matters: through Torkham and several other crossing points with Afghanistan. The NLC also constructed several offices and complexes on the land, secured through leases with tribesmen. But now the tribesmen are unhappy and they are also on protest from several weeks.

The Torkham line is not only used for visitors from both the countries but it is being crossed by hundreds of labourers from Landikotal, Torkham and its surrounding areas. These people are entering Afghanistan early at morning and returning at evening. They demanding easing of the visa restrictions and they arranged several protests. 

Not only traders, transporters and tribesmen but even the politicians and MP’s are also unhappy with travelling and trading hardships. Couple of months, the MP’s from both the country during a three days conference have held a thread bare discussion on the issue. Later they through Speaker of Pakistan National Assembly Mr. Asad Qaisar conveyed their sentiments to Prime Minister Imran Khan. And in according to Prime Minister instruction, his special aide Shehzad Arbab himself visited Torkham and assured its resolution. But the situation is still the same whereas patience on the part of Afghans and tribesmen now touching its peaks.

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