Asia

On Afghanistan-Pakistan border, some Afghans want to flee, others to return home

TORKHAM BORDER — As the Taliban took over Kabul, cementing its power in Afghanistan, this border crossing with Pakistan tentatively resumed operations. In between Kabul and Islamabad, Torkham has long served as a bottleneck of commerce, with Afghan and Pakistani civilians crossing to sell goods, visit relatives or seek medical care.

Sarah Caron/FTWP

Now, the Afghan flag at the border has been replaced by a Taliban one. Taliban fighters patrol the crossing, coordinating with Pakistani authorities amid strained conditions.

Sarah Caron/FTWP

A village lines a mountainous landscape near the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan on Aug. 21.

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Pakistan’s government has all but shut its doors to Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban. On Monday, Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed said the country has not given “a single person” refugee status since Kabul fell. But Pakistan is still seeing an increase in people crossing.

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Some Afghans, however, are seeking to return home. Now that the Taliban is in control, they hope the country has become more secure.

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Families at the Torkham border make their way back to Afghanistan on Aug. 21.

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Farida Bibi, 55, was eager to see her family in Kabul. She had been in Pakistan for a month, receiving medical treatment for a post-surgery infection. Now, she had no choice but to travel by road through Torkham, given the chaos at Kabul’s airport, she said. And her family members in the capital were unable to cross over to Pakistan to take care of her.

Others returned because their Pakistani visas had expired.

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Hoping the security situation in their homeland has improved, a family makes plans on Aug. 25 to return to Kabul.

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Muhammad Ibrahim holds up a bag of medicine at the Torkham border on Aug. 25.

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Muhammad Ibrahim, who was at the crossing on Aug. 25 bringing medicine back to Afghanistan, said he came to Pakistan more than a month before the Taliban took over. Now he has put his hope in the new government to restore and protect its people’s honor, which, he says, was lost for decades.

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Taliban fighters are deployed at the border on Aug. 25.

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Pakistani authorities in Torkham said they were not letting in many non-Pakistani nationals from Afghanistan. The policy marked a shift since Afghans used to easily cross over, especially for the free medical treatment offered in Pakistan’s government hospitals.

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Wali Ullah, a child with cancer, was directed to the Pakistani officials who would decide if his condition warranted entry into the country.

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Taliban members deployed at the border said they were there to bring order and peace. Hamza, a fighter in his late 20s who joined the group when he was 14 years old, said it was the militants’ luck and the trust of the people of Afghanistan that made their victory swift and virtually bloodless.

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

No Afghans without valid documents were allowed to pass into Pakistan on Aug. 21.

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Hamza added that the group’s presence on the border meant an end to the corruption that plagued the border patrol force under the previous government. He alleged drivers were told to pay bribes to ensure a swift passage, a claim confirmed by a Pakistani driver who was at the border.

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Taliban fighters are stationed at the border on Aug. 21.

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

A girl waits for entry into Pakistan at the Torkham border on Aug. 21.

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

On the Afghan side of the border, there were more efforts to secretly cross over. Children hid in trucks, hoping to sell products to Pakistani traders.

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Some were unsuccessful.

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Taliban fighters scold a girl who hid behind the wheels of a truck Aug. 21 in an attempt to cross into Pakistan to sell products.

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Border guards catch men trying to sneak into Pakistan on Aug. 21.

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Pakistani soldiers patrol the border on Aug. 21.

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Newly at the helm, the Taliban attempted to reassure people that Afghanistan would be an inviting place.

“We will be welcoming everyone from all over the world without any immigration complexity like other countries,” Hamza said. But for now, he added, they were instructed to keep the border closed to noncitizens.

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Taliban fighters are stationed at the Torkham border on Aug. 25.

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

Sarah Caron for The Washington Post

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Credits

Editing by Olivier Laurent and Reem Akkad