Pakistan closes Torkham crossing to Afghan patients

People waiting to cross the Torkham crossing to Pakistan. File photo

Pakistan has once again closed the Torkham border crossing to Afghan patients, causing difficulties for people trying to enter the country for medical treatment.

This week, Pakistan closed the border – without giving reasons.

This comes after Islamabad pledged to allow 100 patients a day to enter the country on condition they had approval from the Taliban’s provincial health directorate of Nangarhar.

Sabir, a resident of Nangarhar who was given the required documents from the provincial health directorate to cross the border, said that he has been waiting at the border for four days and nights with his sick mother who needs medical treatment in Pakistan. He is in a difficult situation, but Pakistani authorities have not so far allowed him to enter the country.

“My mother is sick, I got a permit to go there [to Pakistan] with difficulty, but unfortunately I spent cold nights and days there, and now the Pakistanis will not allow me to take her [so] I have returned home.”

He warned others who need to cross into Pakistan for medical help not to go through Torkham border.

Zarmina, who also spent a number of nights at Torkham border with her young son, told Amu TV that she has been waiting for the authorities to reopen the Torkham gate for several days.

“For the past few days, Torkham gate has been closed on the side of Pakistan and its preventing movements for patients. Our patients are suffering from both disease and the cold winter at Torkham. We regretted [traveling through the Torkham border],” Zarmina said.

Naqibullah Rahimi, the spokesperson of the Taliban’s public health directorate in Nangarhar, confirmed that Pakistan has clamped down on people entering the country for medical purposes. He also said no reason was given for this decision.

“It has been a week since Pakistan stopped the transfer process [of patients] for an unknown reason. First, they made an excuse that the biometric system was damaged and then they mentioned the issue of patient attendants and now they don’t allow movement of patients,” Rahimi said.

He noted that the administration is trying to find a way to solve the problem.

Rahimi stated that Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed to allow up to 100 patients to cross the border a day, but now they are not allowing anyone to enter the country.

Border crossing process for medical purposed

In order to get approval to cross into Pakistan, Afghan patients in need of medical treatment must submit their documents to a commission assigned to process such requests. The commission falls under the Taliban’s health directorate. Once submitted, the commission assesses their documents and issues referral documents for patients and their attendants to cross the border and enter Pakistan for medical treatment without a visa.

People of Afghanistan have constantly raised their voices over the lack of decent medical facilities in Afghanistan – which forces thousands of people to seek help out of the country every year.

Noor Agha, a resident of Jalalabad city, said that for 20 years, the republic government and now, in the past year and a half, the Taliban, have been unable to resolve such issues with Pakistan nor could either of them provide people with decent medical care.

He called on the Taliban to support the Afghan health system and improve medical facilities so that people will not have to seek help outside the country.

Problems regarding medical visas and entry into Pakistan have been ongoing for years and to date, no long-term solution has been found.