As the Taliban hunker down for tense negotiations to form an inclusive Afghan government, thousands of Afghans keep returning to their country from Pakistan with a hope to find peace there.
During the last week, nearly 10,000 Afghans returned to their homeland through the Torkham border from Pakistan despite Islamabad barring its citizens from entering Kabul after the former Afghan government collapsed and president Ashraf Ghani fled.
The Torkham border is one of the major crossing points to Afghanistan from Pakistan in the northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) province.
“Over 1,500 Afghan nationals, including women and children, are going back to their country through this crossing point daily,” a military officer at Torkham told Anadolu Agency.
Around 150 to 200 Afghans are also entering Pakistan daily, mostly for treatment in Pakistani hospitals, he added.
On Aug 15, Pakistani authorities closed the border for hours shortly after the Nangarhar province fell to the Taliban followed by a quick grab of the capital Kabul.
However, later they reopened the major crossing point for bilateral trade after reaching an understanding with the Taliban local leaders as hundreds of trucks loaded with fresh fruits and other food items were stranded at the border.
“Now the border is open 24 hours for bilateral trade,” the officer said.
Islamabad has already announced that the country would not take in more refugees from Afghanistan due to its economic situation, but on humanitarian grounds, ailing people are still allowed to enter the country for treatment in hospitals.
“We are still facilitating those Afghans who are coming for treatment in Pakistani hospitals,” he added.
Despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars during the last two decades in the health sector, Afghans still complain of a lack of health facilities in their hospitals.
“My wife is not feeling well and now I am taking her to Peshawar for treatment because there (in Afghanistan) are no facilities and good doctors in our hospitals,” Abdul Haq, a resident of Jalalabad, complained.
Tricolour Afghan flag replaced with white one
Following the bloodless takeover of the capital Kabul, the Taliban removed the country’s tricolour flags from the government buildings, police stations, military facilities, and even at border points with neighbouring countries.
At the Torkham and Chaman borders, the major crossing points with Afghanistan, the Taliban have hoisted their white flag.
“The Taliban replaced the flag on Aug 16 after they captured this border area,” a local shopkeeper in Torkham, Muhammad Younas, said.
On Tuesday, swarms of people on both sides of the borders were waiting to receive their relatives entering from Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“I came from Maidan Wardak Province — central Afghanistan — but I neither saw any check post on roads, nor the Taliban stopped me at any point,” said Sher Khan, a Pakistani labourer who returned from Afghanistan.
He added that though there was calm, work in their construction company was temporarily stopped and they were asked to go home on 15-day vacations.
Hopes return as peace returns
Though many Afghans are trying to flee the country and get asylum in the Western world, many others are returning to their homeland with the hope that peace will return now.
“My mother kept insisting on going to Kandahar as her sister living there told her that there is no more war and peace has returned to their city,” Atif Mashal, a young Afghan, said before crossing the Torkham border.
“We are going for the first time after seven years with the hope that now peace will return and we will permanently stay in our country,” he added.
Born and raised in Pakistan, Mashal, along with his family, was living in Hayatabad, a posh residential area in Peshawar.
According to official statistics, currently, nearly 4 million registered and unregistered Afghan refugees are living in Pakistan.
Following the Taliban announcement ending the war in Afghanistan, Islamabad is hopeful for normalcy at the country’s northwestern tribal belt which borders Afghanistan. The area had long been a hotbed of militancy that forced the Pakistani Army to launch a full-scale offensive in the North Waziristan region in 2014.
Since then, the militants loyal to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the mother organisation of several militant groups in Pakistan, have reportedly moved to Afghanistan, and Islamabad accuses them of cross-border attacks in Pakistan.
However, on Tuesday, the Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said they would not allow anyone to use the Afghan soil against any neighbour or other countries.