Taliban claim Afghan border crossing with Pakistan in major gain

, Taliban claim Afghan border crossing with Pakistan in major gain, The Nzuchi Times Guardian

Taliban fighters said on Wednesday that they had taken control of one of Afghanistan’s main border crossings with Pakistan, perhaps their most strategic gain so far in a rapid advance across the country as US forces pull out.

A Pakistani official said fighters had taken down the Afghan government flag at the Spin Boldak crossing between the Pakistani town of Chaman and the Afghan town of Wesh.

The crossing, south of Afghanistan’s main southern city of Kandahar, is the landlocked country’s second busiest entry point and the main link between its vast south-west and Pakistani ports. Afghan government data shows that 900 trucks a day use it.

The takeover forced Pakistan to seal parts of its border with Afghanistan after heavy fighting between Taliban and Afghan forces around Wesh.

Afghan officials said government forces had pushed back the Taliban fighters and were in control of the Spin Boldak crossing, also in Kandahar province, but civilians and Pakistani officials said the Taliban controlled the Wesh border posts.

“Wesh, which has great importance in Afghan trade with Pakistan and other countries, has been captured by the Taliban,” said a Pakistani security official deployed at the border area.

Officials in Chaman said the Taliban had suspended all travel through the gate. “The mujahideen have captured an important border town called Wesh,” the Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.

The Taliban, who have been fighting to expel foreign forces and defeat the US-backed government in Kabul since they were ousted in 2001, 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, the head of the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Investment in Kabul. “Income has started to go to the Taliban,” he said.

The Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, travelled to the northern province of Balkh on Tuesday to assess security after the Taliban pushed government forces out of several districts there.

, Taliban claim Afghan border crossing with Pakistan in major gain, The Nzuchi Times Guardian

He met civilians and assured them that “the Taliban’s backbone will be broken” and government forces would soon retake all of the areas lost to the militants, the Tolo News network reported.

The country’s vice-president, Amrullah Saleh, said on Twitter that the Taliban were forcing members of a small ethnic minority to either convert to Islam or leave their homes in the northern province of Badakhshan.

“These are minority Kyrgyz who lived there for centuries … They are now in Tajikistan awaiting their fate,” he said.

A Taliban spokesperson was not immediately available for comment, but the UN mission in Afghanistan said it was increasingly concerned about reports of rights abuses as the fighting spreads.

“The reports of killing, ill-treatment, persecution and discrimination are widespread and disturbing, creating fear and insecurity,” it said in a statement.

Educated Afghans, especially women and girls barred from school and most jobs under the Taliban, have expressed alarm at the militants’ rapid advance, as have members of ethnic and sectarian minorities persecuted under their severe interpretation of Sunni Islam.

Taliban spokespeople reject accusations that they abuse rights, and say they will not mistreat women if they return to power.

“The best way to end harm to civilians is for peace talks to be reinvigorated in order for a negotiated settlement to be reached,” the UN mission said.

The Taliban made a commitment to negotiate with their Afghan rivals as part of an agreement under which the US offered to withdraw its forces, but little progress has been made toward a ceasefire in several rounds of talks in Qatar.

Senior politicians from Kabul were preparing to leave for Qatar for more talks this month as western diplomats urged the two sides to work toward a power-sharing agreement.

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