Pakistan seals Torkham border crossing with Afghanistan after attack on Sufi shrine

Afghan nationals wait to cross the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan at the Torkham Border Post on February 9. Photograph:( AFP )

WION New Delhi, Delhi, India Feb 17, 2017, 05.57 AM (IST)

By Taha Siddiqui

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has sealed the Torkham border crossing with Afghanistan after an attack on a sufi shrine in Sindh Thursday that left at least 72 people dead. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the suicide bomb attack in the famous Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine in the town of Sehwan Sharif on Thursday evening.

As fresh wave of terror attacks grips Pakistan, the military in a late night decision on Thursday decided to seal the borders Pakistan shares with Afghanistan. Currently there are two such border crossings being used mostly by civilian population on both sides, one at Chaman and the other at Torkham. 

Experts see this move as a cosmetic measure which will only further deteriorate relations between the Afghan and Pakistani government. "Closing borders that is used for trade and travel of common people on both sides will result in creating further divisions. The need of the hour is to work closely with Afghan government to address concerns of both countries with regards to terrorist groups that reside on both sides of the border," says Ijaz Khan, a professor of International Relations at Peshawar University. 

Mr. Khan feels that there is already a negative sentiment in Afghanistan about Pakistan, given its support for the Afghan Taliban and with the closure of borders - such feelings will strengthen. "Scores of people from Afghanistan come to Pakistan to get medical treatment on a daily basis. Students from Afghanistan are also enrolled in schools and universities in Pakistan. This will affect them and not the militants as its being portrayed in Pakistan," Khan says, pointing out to the assertions by the Pakistani authorities that the terrorists are coming from across the border.

Experts believe that given the fact that the 2400 kilometre-border that Pakistan and Afghanistan share is quite porous - closing formal borders will not stop infiltration, if there is any to begin with. "These attacks are not happening in border areas. They are happening in mainland Pakistan which means that there are networks within the country that are facilitating them. Blaming it all on Afghanistan is a deflection tactic, which is just going to create tensions between the two countries," the professor explains.

Reports on Friday also suggest that the Pakistan Army has summoned Afghan diplomats to the military headquarters to further discuss the presence of terrorists on Afghan soil, and to seek assurances for action against them. "The only way forward is if Pakistan and Afghanistan both act mutually against these groups, otherwise the menace of terrorism will continue," Khan concludes.

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The Pakistan gate on the Torkham border was opened to traffic and pedestrians in August last year. The border crossing is reportedly used by 15,000 to 20,000 people and hundreds of vehicles daily. 

Pakistan on Friday also handed over a list of 76 "most wanted" terrorists, reportedly hiding in Afghanistan, to officials at the Afghan embassy and demanded immediate action, director general Inter-Services Public Relations said in a tweet.  

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(WION)