Taliban get free passage to Pakistan

TORKHAM, Afghanistan — For more than a week since a U.S. helicopter strike killed two Pakistan paramilitary soldiers, Pakistan has blocked scores of Western supply convoys on the vital route that supports the U.S-led military campaign in Afghanistan.

Yet every day, say taxi drivers, security officials and border shop owners, Taliban insurgents cross from Pakistan into Afghanistan without a second glance from border officials.

“Every day, 40,000 to 70,000 people pass through the border. We can’t handle it,” said Gen. Mohammed Zaman Mamozai, the commander of the Afghan Border Police stationed at Torkham gate. “For us it’s very difficult, and it’s not possible to ask every single person where they are going and if they have a passport.”

“If they want to come to Afghanistan, none out of a hundred will be arrested,” said Sediqullah, an Afghan taxi driver, as he waited for Torkham-bound passengers outside Kabul.

Among the thousands of men he’s picked up at the border, Sediqullah, who like many Afghans has only one name, suspects that he’s unwittingly driven plenty of inconspicuous Taliban insurgents heading to fight U.S.-led military forces across Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s willingness to allow sanctuary for Afghan insurgents long has strained ties with the United States, and its closing of one of NATO’s critical supply routes to Afghanistan added to tension. However, Afghanistan shares the blame for not guarding its own front door.

For nearly a decade, the U.S. has spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to cut off the remote high-altitude mountain trails that Taliban forces use to smuggle weapons and fighters into Afghanistan.

Now, the U.S. military is turning its attention to the border crossing.

“More and more we’ve realized that they are not coming through the passes, they’re just coming through the … gate,” said a U.S. government official in Afghanistan.

The U.S.-led coalition is setting up a special task force in eastern Afghanistan to deal with the insurgents who are coming into the country through the front door.

Torkham is one of America’s busiest military lifelines into Afghanistan. About half of the U.S.-led military coalition’s supplies come through Torkham, which is on the western edge of the fabled Khyber Pass, and the southern crossing at Spin Boldak, Afghanistan.

Not only have convoys headed for Torkham been idled, but Taliban officials in Pakistan also have claimed credit for a series of attacks on fuel trucks along the country’s second supply route bound for NATO bases in Afghanistan.

Less dramatic, but just as troubling, is the suspected flow of insurgents using the porous crossing to dispatch new fighters, coordinate attacks and return to relative safety on the Pakistan side of the border.

No one can say how many foreign fighters pass through Torkham. Mamozai said he suspects that more insurgents use clandestine routes, but Torkham now has the attention of U.S. military officials.

The Taliban presence is clearly evident at Torkham. One recent morning, travelers and shopkeepers were wary of speaking with English-speaking reporters.

A few hundred yards from the Pakistani border, a beat-up station wagon played religious tunes over two dented megaphones haphazardly strapped to the car’s roof.

“Oh Allah, help those who make donations for the mosque,” one of the men said over the megaphone while glaring from the passenger seat. “Brothers and sisters, please donate for the mosque.”

Mullah Muskeenyar, the imam of a small mosque close to border, sat manning a money-changing stand as elderly men pushed their burqa-clad wives and daughters in rusting wheelbarrows toward the crossing.

“It is difficult to say who is who,” Muskeenyar said. “They don’t have ‘Taliban’ written on their faces.”

Mamozai said his forces don’t have the resources, intelligence network, surveillance equipment or Western support necessary to secure the border.

In the past nine months, the general said, his men had made only a few dozen arrests and confiscated a few hundred weapons at the border.

Getting a handle on the problem, he said, would require the Obama administration to put increased pressure on Pakistan to target insurgent havens along the border.

“Pakistan is not helping,” he said. “The problem is that the international community is not going to that side of the border.”

Border corruption and abuse are widespread.

Within minutes of arriving at the Torkham crossing gate earlier this week, two Western reporters watched a Pakistani border guard shake down a young traveler for a few dollars before letting him into the country.

Nearby, a second Pakistani border guard roughly pulled a second young man into a tiny border police shack after the traveler refused to comply with demands for cash.

On the other side of the road, Afghan border police stood by as scores of people walked into Afghanistan without being checked at the last gate.

“People come back and forth, and it’s difficult to say,” said one taxi driver at Torkham.

Talk to us

More in Local News

An example of the Malicious Women Co. products (left) vs. the Malicious Mermaid's products (right). (U.S. District Court in Florida)
Judge: Cheeky candle copycat must pay Snohomish company over $800K

The owner of the Malicious Women Co. doesn’t expect to receive any money from the Malicious Mermaid, a Florida-based copycat.

A grave marker for Blaze the horse. (Photo provided)
After Darrington woman’s horse died, she didn’t know what to do

Sidney Montooth boarded her horse Blaze. When he died, she was “a wreck” — and at a loss as to what to do with his remains.

A fatal accident the afternoon of Dec. 18 near Clinton ended with one of the cars involved bursting into flames. The driver of the fully engulfed car was outside of the vehicle by the time first responders arrived at the scene. (Whidbey News-Times/Submitted photo)
Driver sentenced in 2021 crash that killed Everett couple

Danielle Cruz, formerly of Lynnwood, gets 17½ years in prison. She was impaired by drugs when she caused the crash that killed Sharon Gamble and Kenneth Weikle.

A person walks out of the Everett Clinic on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
The Everett Clinic changing name to parent company Optum in 2024

The parent company says the name change will not affect quality of care for patients in Snohomish County.

Tirhas Tesfatsion (GoFundMe) 20210727
Lynnwood settles for $1.7 million after 2021 suicide at city jail

Jail staff reportedly committed 16 safety check violations before they found Tirhas Tesfatsion, 47, unresponsive in her cell.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Lake Stevens in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Separate road rage incident ends with fatal shooting in Lake Stevens

A man, 41, died at the scene in the 15300 block of 84th Street NE. No arrests have been made.

Nursing Administration Supervisor Susan Williams points at a list of current COVID patients at Providence Regional Medical Center on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Dozens of Providence patients in medical limbo for months, even years

About 100 people are stuck in Everett hospital beds without an urgent medical reason. New laws aim for a solution.

Lynnwood man arrested, released on $25K bond after road rage shooting

Deputies arrested the suspect, 20, for investigation of first-degree assault on Tuesday.

Mt. Baker visible from the summit of Mt. Dickerman on a late summer day in 2017. (Caleb Hutton / The Herald)
Hornets pester hikers on popular Mountain Loop trails

“You cannot out run the stings,” one hiker wrote in a trip report. The Forest Service has posted alerts at two trailheads.

Most Read