An Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL)-linked massacre targeting a prominent Sufi Muslim Shrine in Pakistan has prompted Islamabad to keep its border crossings with Afghanistan closed for more than two weeks now.
“Pakistanis are not allowing anyone to cross the border, and they order their forces to shoot anyone who is trying to cross the border,” Haji Iqbal, an Afghan who recently crossed from Pakistan, told the New York Times (NYT). “I walked for two hours.”
Iqbal is among some Afghans who gave resorted to paying human traffickers and taking dangerous mountain passes to return to Afghanistan.
The border closure has left thousands of civilians stranded on both sides and brought cross-border trade to a halt.
“Pakistan’s decision to close the border with Afghanistan was a largely symbolic act aimed at forcing its neighbor to take action against extremist groups blamed for fomenting cross-border terror attacks,” reported Voice of America (VOA) at the end of February.
“Truckloads of food are rotting. Families are divided. People seeking treatment for a variety of ailments have run out of medicine and money, or will do so soon,” it added. “Only ambulances transferring the dead from the Pakistan side have been allowed to pass.”
On Saturday, Imran Khan, an opposition leader in Pakistan, urged Afghanistan and Pakistan to resolve the crisis.
He warned that the border closing is “building into a humanitarian crisis,” reports the Times, adding that both countries should allow “those with valid travel documents and perishable goods” to cross.
On Monday, Pakistan’s foreign office revealed that two border crossings would be reopened for 48 hours on Tuesday to allow stranded visitors from both countries to return home, reports Al Jazeera.
The border closure has also sparked clashes between Pakistani government forces and jihadists linked to the Pakistani Taliban known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
“At least 15 people have been killed in clashes on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border after Pakistani Taliban fighters attacked three border posts in Pakistan’s Mohmand tribal area, according to the military,” notes Al Jazeera.
The Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) faction of TTP claimed responsibility for the attack. Pakistan accuses Afghanistan of serving as a sanctuary for TTP fighters.
In mid-February, VOA reported:
Pakistani troops have been staging cross-border shelling to target what authorities claimed were camps of Jammat-ul Ahrar, or JuA, a splinter faction of the anti-state Pakistani Taliban for being behind most of the deadly violence.
Islamabad maintains that JuA leaders are sheltering in Afghan border areas from where they plot and direct violence against Pakistan.
Hours before the Pakistani military issued the statement Monday highlighting the latest TTP-linked attack, Pakistan summoned a senior Afghan diplomat to its foreign office to protest the latest border clashes.
Islamabad urged Afghanistan to take firm action against terrorists carrying out attacks in Pakistan from its soil, revealed the Pakistani foreign office in a statement.
Last week, Afghan Gen. Murad Ali Murad summoned Pakistan’s Ambassador to Afghanistan Abrar Hussain to urge Islamabad to de-escalate tension at the border and reopen the crossing points between the two neighboring countries, reports the Associated Press (AP).
Gen. Murad “promised to take action against terrorists on the basis of shared information,” reportedly added the statement.
Afghanistan and Pakistan have repeatedly accused one another of serving as a sanctuary for terrorists.
The Afghanistan-Pakistan border region has long served as a safe haven for jihadist groups operating in both countries.
According to Gen. John Nicholson, the top commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, “Of the 98 U.S. or UN-designated terrorists organizations around the globe, 20 of them are in the Af-Pak region.”
The U.S. military believes the majority of the terrorists in the region call the Af-Pak border area their home.
Pakistan closed the border in mid-February, after the ISIS attack on the Sufi shrine killed up to 88 people and injured hundreds of others. The majority of ISIS members in the Af-Pak are Pakistani Pashtuns, former members of the Pakistani Taliban, noted Gen. Nicholson last year.
ISIS is considered a rival by the Afghan Taliban. The Afghan and Pakistani Taliban are two different groups.