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Pakistan-Afghanistan Border Shutdown Stalls Trade Convoys

FILE - Trucks loaded with goods are seen parked at border crossing point Torkham in Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar province, on the country's border with Pakistan, Feb. 21, 2023.
FILE - Trucks loaded with goods are seen parked at border crossing point Torkham in Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar province, on the country's border with Pakistan, Feb. 21, 2023.

Pakistan's main border crossing with landlocked Afghanistan was closed for a second day Thursday after deadly clashes between security forces from the two countries.

Residents and transporters said the abrupt closure had stranded hundreds of truck convoys on both sides carrying commercial goods through the busy Torkham border point of transit for trade and travelers.

Pakistani and Taliban authorities in Afghanistan confirmed that both sides had held talks to try to defuse the tensions and "prevent the recurrence of such incidents in the future," but the border crossing remained closed Thursday, suggesting the dialogue failed to make headway.

The armed clashes erupted on Wednesday when Taliban guards began building a new border outpost near Torkham in violation of mutual agreements and ignoring repeated warnings to stop the work, said Pakistani officials.

Residents in Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar province, where Torkham lies, told VOA the clashes killed two Taliban guards and wounded about a dozen Afghan civilians.

Officials in both countries have declined to discuss any details about casualties, if any.

A provincial government spokesman in Jalalabad, Nangarhar's capital, acknowledged in a statement that Taliban forces were digging a security trench when they came under attack from the Pakistani side.

Business leaders in both countries urged Pakistan and Afghanistan to urgently reopen the border crossing, saying many trucks are loaded with perishable goods, including fresh fruit and vegetables.

"The traders are suffering heavy losses after the border in Torkham was closed on Wednesday following a firing incident there," Ziaul Haq Sarhadi, director of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Reuters.

The closure of the border crossing has also impacted the handling of commercial goods at the southern Pakistani port of Karachi, which provides Afghanistan access to international markets.

The Torkham border crossing has increasingly become a vital transit route for Pakistan to export and import commercial goods from landlocked Central Asian countries through Afghanistan.

However, allegations that the Taliban are not doing enough to prevent anti-Pakistan insurgents from using Afghan soil for cross-border terrorist attacks have strained bilateral relations in recent months.

Pakistani officials said the latest such attack occurred on Wednesday when a large group of heavily armed militants stormed two security outposts in the northern Kalash valley near the Afghan border.

The military said that the ensuing fierce clashes had killed four soldiers and 12 "terrorists," suggesting the assailants had come across the border from Afghanistan.

"Thanks to our alert forces, the terrorist attack on military posts near the Pak-Afghan border in Chitral was repelled with heavy casualties on the terrorist side," Pakistani caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar said Thursday on X, formerly Twitter. He named the district where Kalash lies.

"Sadly, 4 brave soldiers embraced Shahadat (martyrdom). Our resolve to eradicate terrorism remains unshaken, and all our citizens stand firm with us," Kakar said.

The outlawed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, claimed responsibility for launching the deadly raid. The group is a known offshoot and has pledged allegiance to the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Hibatullah Akhundzada.

Pakistani authorities say the TTP has intensified cross-border terrorism from sanctuaries in Afghanistan with "greater freedom" since the Taliban takeover of the neighboring, war-torn country two years ago.

The Afghan Taliban have repeatedly denied that the TTP or other militant groups are using their territory.