PESHAWAR: The Taliban appeared to be blocking access to a key crossing point with Pakistan on Thursday night as Afghans who have given up on evacuation flights attempt to escape by land.
The Torkham crossing, 180 miles from Kabul, is one of the nearest land routes out of the country for those unable to flee via the main airport.
But there were no reports of Afghans gathering on the Afghan side of the border on Thursday, suggesting that the Taliban was preventing people from approaching the frontier.
“Taliban soldiers are very strict and don’t permit Afghans to come near the border. Taliban want to keep the people inside and give a message to the world that the country is safe,” a senior Pakistani border official told the Telegraph.
Pakistani officials also said the Torkham crossing had been sealed off because the country did not wish to take in any more refugees.
“We have closed the border on the government’s directives because Pakistan cannot afford to house more refugees. Pakistan is already home to three million Afghans,” the border official said.
Another major crossing with Pakistan, Chaman, is more than 370 miles from Kabul by road but has seen a reported fourfold increase in the number of people trying to cross since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan.
“There was uncertainty, I therefore entered Pakistan,” said Muhammad Usman, a resident of Jalalabad who was unable to cross at Torkham and took the longer route to Chaman. He said he was going to the Pakistani city of Peshawar, where he grew up.
“They did not allow us to enter through Jalalabad”, he said. “I have proof of registration card issued to Afghan refugees in Pakistan.”
It comes after Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, reportedly briefed MPs that crossing the Afghanistan land border would be a “better option” than using Kabul airport because few flights were available.
The Taliban’s reluctance to allow Afghan interpreters and others who worked with Western forces to leave is partly linked to fears that it will result in a brain drain in the coming weeks.
“We ask them to stop this process. We urge the Americans not to push skilled Afghans to go … We need their talent,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said earlier in the week.