Pakistan gate Torkham
Pakistan Gate at Torkham Border.

Trade activities except imports and exports have begun picking up momentum at Torkham border due to a steady increase in the number of Afghan nationals coming to Pakistan via that crossing point with valid travel documents.

Officials at the border told Dawn that on average, 8,000-9,000 Afghans used Torkham border crossing daily to enter Pakistan but the number jumped to around 15,000 on certain days.

They said the increase in arrival of Afghan nationals was phenomenal compared with 1,200-1,400 such daily entries in the wake of strict travel restrictions imposed on Afghans by Pakistani authorities in June last year when border forces of the two countries traded heavy gunfire over the construction of a gate on the Pakistani side of the border.

The officials said prior to the June incident, Pakistani authorities both at Torkham border and in Islamabad had serious reservations about the unrestricted inflow of Afghans via Torkham border as over 20,000 Afghans, mostly without legal travel documents, used to enter the country causing a huge security risk.

They said initially, the Afghan authorities objected to Pakistani travel restrictions and raised a lot of hue and cry but gradually adjusted themselves to the situation and thus, resulting in steady increase in the visits of Afghans to Pakistan via Torkham border.

“Another positive result of our new border management policy is that our Afghan counterparts have also started managing their own side of the border greatly helping regulate the pedestrian movement at the border crossing,” an official said expressing satisfaction at the ‘changed and friendly’ behaviour of Afghan border officials.

The official said like Pakistan, the Afghan side, too, had separate entry and exit pathways.

“We had requested them (Afghans) to do so in order to regulate human movement on both sides of the border,” he said.

Officials attribute trend to increase in the number of visiting Afghans since restrictions were imposed.

The officials, however, said the return of both registered and unregistered Afghans living in Pakistan had considerably declined with the onset of the winter season in Afghanistan.

“Such a drop in return is a routine phenomenon during the winter as most Afghans try to avoid harsh weather conditions during the winter season and prefer to stay in Pakistan,” the official said.

He said the increase in the number of incoming Afghans had also benefited local taxi drivers and smalltime business owners at Torkham border.

Cabbie Tayam Khan said as many as 3000 cabs left the Torkham taxi stand every day taking Afghan passengers to different destinations in Pakistan, mostly in Peshawar and Islamabad. “Last year, the number of cabs ferrying Afghans had dropped to 30 or 40 on a daily basis,” he said.

The taxi driver said most Afghans came to Pakistan either for medical treatment or in connection with their businesses, which they had established in Pakistan during their four decades long stay and that some of them regularly came here to meet family members and Pakistani friends.

The restaurant owners and currency dealers also expressed satisfaction at the steady increase in trading activities due to the influx of Afghans.

They said hundreds of taxi drivers had abandoned profession, while over a dozen restaurant owners had shifted to other cities after the Pakistani government announced strict travel restrictions for Afghan in June last year.

They said moneychangers, too, had suffered losses with the abrupt decline in the visits of Afghan nationals. Local businessman Sabir Shinwari said the situation had improved causing better business activity.

“The eateries are now frequently visited by incoming Afghans while the taxi stand also gave a crowded look which is a pleasant sign for local traders and taxi drivers”, he said.

Originally published on DAWN.COM