ISLAMABAD - Officials in Afghanistan say a stampede near Pakistan’s consulate in an eastern border city and insurgent attacks elsewhere in the war-torn country have killed about 50 people.
Witnesses said thousands of Afghans had gathered Wednesday morning in a stadium outside the consulate in Jalalabad waiting to collect tokens required to apply for a Pakistani visa before jostling broke out between applicants.
A provincial government spokesman told VOA at least 15 people, including eleven elderly women, were crushed to death in the ensuing stampede. Attaullah Khogyani said that many more people were trampled, including women, as they tried to exit the stadium. He expected the number of casualties to rise.
A Pakistan Embassy statement issued in Kabul expressed “deep grief and sadness” over the loss of Afghan lives. It noted that the stadium is five kilometers away from the Pakistani consulate in Jalalabad where Afghan authorities gather and organize visa applicants.
Pakistan has recently relaxed visa rules for Afghans to encourage people-to-people contacts between the two countries, which share a nearly 2,600 kilometer border.
The new visa policy has prompted thousands of people to rush to the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul and four consulates elsewhere in Afghanistan to apply for visas to secure medical treatment, education and jobs in the neighboring country.
Pakistan hosts nearly three million Afghan refugees and economic migrants, who have fled decades of hostilities, religious persecution and poverty in their war-torn country.
Authorities in Afghanistan’s northeastern Takhar province said Wednesday that the Taliban there had killed at least 34 government forces in overnight attacks. A local government spokesman told VOA the provincial police chief for security was also among the slain men.
Meanwhile, fresh clashes have erupted between Afghan security forces and the Taliban near Lashkargah, the embattled capital of the southern Helmand province.
A provincial government spokesman, Omar Zawak, told VOA the insurgents attempted to enter the city from a forested area but Afghan forces quickly countered the action and killed more than 25 assailants in the process. Zawak confirmed the fighting killed at least one Afghan soldier and wounded several others.
The official claim could not be verified from independent sources and the Taliban did not immediately comment on the latest fighting in Helmand.
Lashkargah has been under a major Taliban attack for two weeks, cutting off road links into the city and reportedly displacing 40,000 civilians. The United Nations says the fighting has caused more than 200 casualties.
Gun-battles were also raging in neighboring Kandahar province Wednesday following two Taliban suicide car bombings there. Officials confirmed the attacks but did not immediately share any details about casualties.
The increased violence in Afghanistan has undermined ongoing U.S.-brokered peace negotiations between the Taliban and representatives of the Afghan government.
The dialogue in Doha, Qatar, is the product of a U.S.-Taliban agreement reached in February aimed at closing the 19-year-old Afghan war, America’s longest.
The deal requires all American and allied forces to leave the country by May 2021. In return, the Taliban is bound to fight terrorism on Afghan soil and reach a political power-sharing arrangement with rival factions to end four decades of conflict in Afghanistan.