Pakistan on Monday defended its decision to close the main border crossing with landlocked Afghanistan, saying Taliban authorities were trying to build "unlawful structures" on its territory and "resorted to indiscriminate firing" when challenged.
Traffic through the busy historic Torkham transit point for trade and travelers was suspended last Wednesday after border security forces exchanged fire, killing a Taliban guard and a civilian on the Afghan side.
"Pakistan cannot accept the construction of any structures by [the Afghan government] inside its territory since these violate its sovereignty," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said Monday.
She responded to a Taliban Foreign Ministry statement accusing Pakistani forces of opening fire on Afghan forces while they were doing "repair work on an old security post constructed several years ago."
Sunday’s Taliban statement warned that the border closure could "adversely affect" relations between the two countries.
"On 6th September, instead of a peaceful resolution, Afghan troops resorted to indiscriminate firing, targeting Pakistan military posts, damaging the infrastructure at the Torkham Border Terminal, and putting the lives of both Pakistani and Afghan civilians at risk when they were stopped from erecting such unlawful structures," said Baloch in a statement.
"Such unprovoked and indiscriminate firing on Pakistani border posts cannot be justified under any circumstances," she said.
The Torkham standoff has stranded hundreds of trucks transporting commercial goods, mostly Afghan fruits and vegetables, and thousands of travelers on both sides.
The nearly 2,600-kilometer has long been a source of bilateral tensions because Afghanistan disputes the century-old British colonial-era demarcation. Islamabad rejects Kabul's objections, saying Pakistan inherited the international border after gaining independence from Britain in 1947.
Rising cross-border terror
Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesperson Baloch suggested Monday that the Torkham gate closure also resulted from the rising cross-border attacks against her country by anti-Pakistan militants sheltering in Afghanistan.
She referred to leaders and fighters of the banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, operating out of Afghan soil.
TTP is listed as a global terrorist organization by the United States and the United Nations. It is a known offshoot and close ally of the Afghan Taliban.
"These elements are enjoying sanctuaries inside Afghanistan, as confirmed by the U.N. Security Council's Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team in its latest report,” she said.
"We expect the Afghan interim authorities to be mindful of Pakistan's concerns, respect the territorial integrity of Pakistan, and ensure that the Afghan territory is not used as a launching pad for terrorist attacks against Pakistan," said Baloch.
The U.N. report in question found that TTP has been "gaining momentum in its operations against Pakistan and aspires to regain control of territory within the country.” It noted that at least 4,000 TTP operatives are active on Afghan soil and warned the group could become a regional threat if it continues to have safe operating base in Afghanistan.
The Afghan Taliban deny they allow the use of Afghan soil to threaten Pakistan or other countries, calling TTP-led violence an internal matter for the neighboring country.
Pakistani officials and residents said Afghan Taliban fighters also joined TTP in launching last week's massive assault against two security outposts close to the Afghan border in the northern Chitral district.
Islamabad claims it has also shared evidence and bodies of several Afghan assailants killed in retaliatory counterterrorism actions by the Pakistani security forces.