ISLAMABAD - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif Monday ordered reopening of the two main border crossings to Afghanistan, as a goodwill gesture – a move also welcomed by the United Nations.

Though those involved in terrorist activities in Pakistan have a connection with anti-Pakistani elements in Afghanistan, the closure of border between the two countries having centuries old religious, cultural and historic relations, was against economic and public interests,” PM office stated.

The two nations are divided by the Durand Line, a 2,400-kilometre frontier drawn by the Britain in 1896.

Last month, Pakistan shut the crossing at Torkham – on the road from the northwest city of Peshawar to the Afghan city of Jalalabad – and at Chaman – on the road between the southwestern city of Quetta and Kandahar in Afghanistan.

Pakistan had acted after more than 130 people were killed in a spate of attacks by militants that Islamabad said had taken shelter in Afghanistan – a claim Kabul rejected.

However, the border crossings were opened on March 7 and 8, to provide an opportunity to those nationals of Afghanistan who had come to Pakistan on valid visas and wished to return to their country.

The statement read: “It has been decided to reopen the border as a good-will gesture with immediate effect, with the hope that the government of Afghanistan would take the necessary steps required to address the reasons that led to the closure of the border.”

The PM said they have reiterated time and again that durable peace in Afghanistan is imperative for peace and security in Pakistan. Pakistan would continue to collaborate with Afghanistan to eliminate terrorism from the two countries, he added.

Last week, the United Kingdom-sponsored talks in London failed to break the stalemate between Afghanistan and Pakistan over the border issue as both sides were sticking to their declared positions.

The only positive outcome of the talks between Afghanistan and Pakistani sides was that they agreed to continue the dialogue to break the impasse, a senior official in the government said.

The sources in the government said that the civil and military leadership of both the countries were in constant touch through backdoor channels and the announcement from PM Nawaz came on the developments and understandings reached behind the scene.

Decision welcomed widely

The decision of prime minister was widely welcomed, mainly from the business community that faced loss of millions because of closure of border.

Our Special Correspondent adds from New York: The United Nations welcomed the Pakistani PM’s decision to order the immediate reopening of the Pak-Afghan border.

“We welcome the reopening of the border crossings between Pakistan and Afghanistan,” Farhan Haq, Deputy spokesman of the UN Secretary-General, said in response to a question from a Pakistani journalist at the regular noon briefing.

“We hope that the people of the two countries would be able to move freely between the two countries,” the spokesman added.

Ahmad Nabi adds from Khyber Agency: Afghanistan Ambassador Umer Zakhelwal welcomed the decision of reopening the border.

In his comments via the media, the diplomat stressed that the issues between the two states “need to be set aside and the borders should remain opened to provide relief to the people of two countries”.

About the militants, he said they were enemies of both Pakistan and Afghanistan as they (terrorists) were a direct threat to peace.

He added that Afghanistan was a victim of militancy and extremism too.

“Reopening of crossing points is not a gift prior to Nowroz (New Year) celebrations but a right of them,” he said.

 Torkham still shut

 The Pak-Afghan border at Torkham was yet to be reopened as the authorities had not received the copy of written order so far, it was learnt.

Torkham admin official Shamsul Islam said the administration had not received the copy of formal notification. He said that the border would be reopened for all sorts of movements after formal notification. The customs officers at the Torkham Border said stranded vehicles would be let pass on after they got the copy of order.  

This news was published in The Nation newspaper. Read complete newspaper of 21-Mar-2017 here.