• Imran invites Karzai to conference
• Afghan flag removed from Friendship Gate
• Additional troops deployed along the border
QUETTA: Pakistan sealed its border with Afghanistan on Wednesday after Taliban militants wrested control from Afghan forces of the border town of Wesh that sits opposite the Pakistani border town of Chaman.
According to sources in Chaman, the Taliban seized control of Wesh after heavy fighting on Tuesday night even though Afghan government forces used helicopter gunships in an attempt to defend their positions.
“The Friendship Gate at the Pak-Afghan border has been closed from both sides, which stopped all kinds of traffic and human movement at the border,” the sources said.
They said the Taliban militants had removed the national flag of Afghanistan from atop the Friendship Gate and other places in Wesh and hoisted the Taliban’s standard instead.
“Wesh Mandi, which has great importance for Afghan trade with Pakistan and other countries besides business activities, has been captured by the Taliban,” an official of the Chaman administration told Dawn, quoting reports pouring into his town.
Pakistani authorities put their forces on high alert along the border and deployed additional troops to the frontier region in an effort to avert untoward incidents, the sources said.
A large number of Afghan nationals, including women and children, have been stranded in Chaman due to the closure of the Pak-Afghan border from the two sides.
However, despite heavy gunfight overnight no one has been brought over to Chaman for treatment so far.
“Around 500 Afghans including patients who came for treatment to Chaman earlier are now waiting to return to their hometowns in Afghanistan,” the official sources said, adding that due to the closure hundreds of trucks and long-body vehicles carrying transit goods and other items for Afghanistan also got struck at Chaman.
“No vehicle or person is allowed to cross the border from both the sides,” a Levies Force official said.
The situation in Chaman was normal on Wednesday but last night there was a lot of panic as loud explosions were heard throughout the night, said a resident.
Video released by the Taliban showed their white flag with verses flying in place of Afghanistan’s flag above the Friendship Gate at the border crossing between Wesh and Chaman, added Reuters.
“After two decades of the brutality of Americans and their puppets, this gate and the Spin Boldak district were captured by the Taliban,” a fighter said to camera.
“The strong resistance of the Mujahideen and its people forced the enemy to leave this area. As you can see, that’s the Islamic Emirate flag...”
The crossing, in the Spin Boldak district south of Afghanistan’s main southern city Kandahar, is the landlocked country’s second busiest entry point and main commercial artery between its sprawling southwest region and Pakistani seaports. Afghan government data indicate that the route is used by 900 trucks a day.
Afghan officials said government forces had pushed back the Taliban and were in control of the district. But civilians and Pakistani officials said the Taliban remained in control of the border crossing.
The Taliban have in recent days seized other major border crossings in Herat, Farah and Kunduz provinces in the north and west. Control of border posts allows the Taliban to collect revenue, said Shafiqullah Attai, chairman of the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Investment in the capital Kabul.
The Islamist militants, who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until their ouster in 2001 by the US forces following the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, have since been fighting to topple the Western-backed government in Kabul.
US President Joe Biden has announced he is pulling out all US troops by August, and American forces left their main base in the country two weeks ago. Emboldened Taliban have been making a fresh push to surround cities and capture territory.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan late on Wednesday night telephoned former Afghan president Hamid Karzai inviting him and other leaders to an international conference on Afghanistan to be organised by Pakistan soon.
In a tweet, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the prime minister reassured Mr Karzai that Pakistan would make all out efforts for restoration of peace in the neighbouring country.