ISLAMABAD - Pakistan has decided to issue entry visas to Afghan nationals who want to visit the country for medical treatment.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan announced the decision this week during a visit to the northwestern Torkham border crossing where he inaugurated new immigration facilities.
Despite prevailing bilateral tensions over mutual terror allegations the Pakistani minister accompanied by senior military officials as a goodwill gesture stepped across the frontier and shook hands with Afghan border forces.
The Afghan commander welcomed Khan and informed him that patients seeking medical treatment in Pakistani hospitals are facing serious problems in seeking urgent visas due to new Pakistani border regulations. Khan assured him the issue will be resolved and told him Afghans visiting Pakistan for medical treatment will be granted visas at the Torkham entry point.
Pakistani authorities have recently tightened border controls on its nearly 2,600 kilometer long porous frontier with Afghanistan in a bid to deter terrorist infiltration. The new measures require all Afghans to enter the country with valid travel documents and Pakistani visas.
For decades, divided Afghan families and millions of refugees have enjoyed the freedom of undertaking cross border travels on special permits and cards issued to families displaced by the Afghan conflict or fleeing persecution.
Khan said, “We welcome them (Afghans) to visit us and we want to visit their country. When more than 3.5 million Afghans were in difficulty and needed our help (as refugees), Pakistanis generously welcomed them and will do so if, God forbid, they (Afghans) faced such problems in future. But the freedom of movement they were enjoying until now was being misused by terrorists.”
Terrorist accusations from both sides
Khan again alleged that after fleeing military operations on the Pakistani side, terrorist groups have established bases in Afghan border areas and are plotting subversive acts in Pakistan.
“We have to focus now on them (anti-Pakistani militants)," he said. "These people sneak across the border, enter our country, and attack our people like cowards.” .
Afghan officials reject allegations they are allowing anti-Pakistan militants to operate from their soil and in turn accuse Islamabad of harboring Taliban and insurgents linked to the Haqqanii network of terrorists fighting U.S.-led coalition and local forces in Afghanistan.
Pakistani officials estimate about 30,000 Afghans used to to travel across the Torkham until new regulations were enacted in June.
Most of them were Afghan refugees traveling on special refugee cards or members of the divided families using “easement rights” granted to them by both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
But easement rights have been restricted, significantly reducing the number of travelers and have prompted more than 600,000 Afghan refugees, including undocumented families to return home since July.
Minister Khan said by 2020 Pakistan will have constructed six dedicated and automated border crossings with Afghanistan equipped with latest immigration facilities like those installed at Torkham crossing, enabling the control of all traffic between the two countries.
Thousands of additional paramilitary troops will also be deployed by end of next year to strengthen monitoring of the cross-border movement, he added.