TORKHAM BORDER CROSSING —
Pakistan has introduced new policies along its border with Afghanistan, ostensibly to reduce cross-border terrorism. But the measures are also likely to add to human suffering for the thousands of people who frequently travel back and forth for work or medical treatment.
This used to be a nearly open border, especially for Pashtuns, many of whom had relatives on both sides. Afghans seeking medical treatment in Pakistan, laborers who went daily to the other side to work, businessmen, and people going for family functions made up the thousands who crossed this border daily. Traveling back and forth was a breeze. That will now end.
Pakistan has announced that, for security reasons, only Afghans with proper documents will be allowed in.
Drop in crossings expected
Up to 25,000 people used to cross this border every day. Local officials say with the new restrictions the number is expected to drop significantly.
On day one of the new policy, thousands crossed over from Pakistan to Afghanistan, while the traffic from the other side was down to a trickle.
Those coming over from Afghanistan described long lines in the blistering heat.
Pashtuns with families across the border were worried about the implications.
“It’ll make it really difficult for the old people, the sick, the relatives who live on both sides of the border who travel frequently back and forth. We’re all Pashtuns living on both sides of the border. The situation is so bad on the other side that I cannot even describe it,” said Hameedullah Siddiqi, a Peshawar resident.
Others favored the move.
“All kinds of people cross over. No one knows who they are, where they are coming from, where they are going. Now, at least we’ll have that information,” said Din Mohammad Mehsud, a Pakistani doctor.
Pakistan says strict border management is the only way to stop militants who cross over from Afghanistan to carry out attacks inside Pakistan.
But some analysts think the move could backfire. While terrorists could use unofficial routes in the mountains to cross over, the suffering of ordinary Afghans might add to the already high anti-Pakistan sentiment in Afghanistan.
VOA Deewa Service’s Ibrahim Shinwari contributed to this report.