The Torkham Border

On September 6, 2023, Pakistani authorities closed a key border crossing with landlocked Afghanistan shortly after border guards from the two sides exchanged fire, officials and residents said, in a sign of increasing tensions between the two neighbours. Local residents on the Pakistan side heard the sound of gunfire, and people near the border area fled.

There were also reports of deadly attacks by TTP rebels on several Pakistani military installations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa resulting in heavy casualties of Pakistani soldiers.

The Reasons

A local administration official named Irshad Mohammad said that the crossing was shut from the Pakistan side after a security dispute spiralled. “Afghan forces tried to establish a checkpoint in an area where it is agreed that both sides will not establish a security check post,” he told AFP News Agency. After an objection from the Pakistan side, they (Afghan Forces) opened fire, he said and then added that Pakistan border forces opened “retaliatory fire”

The Border closures come two days after Pakistan caretaker PM Anwarul Haque Kakar said that the military equipment left behind by the United States during its withdrawal had fallen into the hands of terrorists and armed groups making its way into the hands of the Pakistan Taliban.

The Pakistani authorities said that dozens of trucks carrying easily perishable items, including vegetables and fruits, were waiting on both sides of the border for the reopening of Torkham Border.

Abdul Mateen Qani, the Afghan-Taliban appointed spokesperson for the Interior Ministry, confirmed the clashes between Afghan and Pakistan Forces. He said that officials from both sides were attempting to find out what caused the clash and ways to prevent such incidents in the future.

Significance of The Torkham Border

Afghanistan and Pakistan share a 2,600 km-long border. It has eighteen border crossings, of which the Torkham Border is the most significant as it is located on the Grand Trunk Road. It has been used by traders and invaders from Alexander the Great to the British Empire, and it was a route used by the US-backed Mujahideen into Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Today, the crossing is manned by the Afghan Border Police and the Pakistan Frontier Corps. Some 10,000 to 15,000 people use the crossing near the Khyber Pass each day. The crossing is used extensively for trade purposes. It is of utmost importance to Afghanistan that it is used for exporting coal and receiving food and other essentials from Pakistan. It has also become the main entry point to Pakistan for Afghan refugees.

Clashes Between Taliban And Pakistan

The Pakistan Taliban, also called Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan, have intensified their attacks over the past few months on Pakistani Security Forces. They are close allies with the Afghan Taliban. The Afghan Taliban overran Afghanistan in 2021 as the US and NATO troops were in the last weeks chaotic pull-out from the country after twenty years of war.

The Pakistan Taliban have released statements and video clips in recent months claiming that they have laser and thermal imaging systems. The Torkham Border witnessed previous clashes in February 2023, and the town remained closed for several days after the two sides were accused of building posts along the borders.

Afghanistan has never recognised the porous border that demarcates the Pashtun heartlines and dilutes the power of Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group on both sides. Pakistan says that it has completed 97 per cent to stop cross-border attacks and smuggling. Pakistan accused the Afghan Taliban of providing safe haven, shelter and refuge to the militants.

Currently, the Pakistani security forces are carrying out intelligence-based operations against the insurgency in the region. Militants often fire mortars to target security forces deployed in the region, and it has caused civil casualties as well in recent years.