KHYBER AGENCY -  Transporters stuck at Torkham border staged a protest demonstration on Thursday as the authorities indefinitely closed two border crossings with Afghanistan after opening them for two days to let through Afghans with visas.

In the aftermath of the recent terrorist attacks in the country, the authorities had closed the Torkham border for transporting commodities and vehicular movements.

Dozens of drivers and cleaners while holding black flags chanted slogans in favour of their demands. They were of the view that if they were not allowed to cross the border to Afghanistan then they should be allowed to return to Karachi to unload the merchandise and transit goods.

Parked in Torkham parking lots, the tyres and engines of the loaded trucks had been damaged, which was a huge financial blow to them besides loss of the commodities.

“For the last three weeks, we have been cooking our food after buying it from Landi Kotal, eight kilometres away, as Torkham bazaar had been kept closed since the first day of the border closure,” they said.

They lamented that the cash had finished and they were meeting their daily needs by borrowing it from their colleagues. They demanded of the authorities concerned to have mercy on them and forthwith address their problems.

Approximately 235 vehicles loaded with export and transit goods including cement, flour, potatoes, sugar, small machinery etc, have been stuck at Torkham due to the border closure.

The traders and merchants of vegetables and fruits stressed the government to allow passage of trucks and trailers loaded with perishable items, stuck at Torkham for the last 20 days.

Addressing a news conference at Peshawar Press Club, President All Pakistan Agriculture Produce Traders’ Federation (APAPTF) Malik Sohni said around 500 trucks loaded with vegetables, fruits and other food items were stuck at Torkham due to closure of the border. He said most of trucks were loaded with perishable food items, due to which local traders suffered losses worth millions of rupees.

Other officebearers of the federation, including Malik Iftikhar Awan, and president of Gur Mandi Peshawar, Haji Ihsanullah Mohmand were also present on the occasion. Malik Sohni appreciated the steps taken by the government and the army for boosting security at the border. He sought prior intimation for closure of the border allowing timely crossing of food consignments.

“We welcome government’s decision to open the border on humanitarian basis for stranded people,” he said. He urged the government to extend the relaxation to traders and merchants’ community as well and save them from huge financial losses.

On the occasion, Ihsan Mohmand said the trucks loaded with gur (brown sugar) departed from Peshawar on February 15, but were stranded due to prolonged closure of the border. He lamented that prices of gur were going down from Rs4,600 per sack against previous rate of Rs5,900, due to which they had lost millions of rupees, he added.

He also said they had to pay out additional charges of Rs3,000 per truck as fare on daily basis. He urged the government and authorities concerned to reopen the border for the food consignments.

Malik Iftikhar said strict border management and security measures were essential for sustainable peace and for protection of people. “If the border is closed in emergency situations then the trucks should be allowed to cross the border first,” he demanded.

Meanwhile, the Torkham border was sealed for indefinite period after reopening it for two days, a border security official said on Thursday.

The official said that 24,140 stranded Afghan nationals having valid travelling documents crossed the border to Afghanistan while 850 Pakistani citizens came into Pakistan. He said on Wednesday night at 10pm, the border was closed. The federal government had opened the Torkham and Chaman borders on March 7 and 8 to facilitate the stranded Afghan citizens.

According to Reuters, two men, a woman and a child were trampled to death in the resulting surge of more than 20,000 Afghans passing through the crossings, said Attahullah Khogyani, the government spokesman for Afghanistan's border province of Nangarhar.

Pakistani official Niaz Mohammad, based in Torkham, said 24,000 Afghans had returned to Afghanistan on foot, while 700 Pakistanis returned home, before the border was closed again on Wednesday. "There is no clarity on when the border will be reopened," Mohammad said.