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Pakistan will shut its border with Afghanistan in ‘national interest’ if Taliban takes over post-US withdrawal

Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the country will shut its border in “national interest” with neighbouring Afghanistan if the Taliban takes over the country after the withdrawal of US troops from the region concludes.

“We will have to shut our border, we have to safeguard our national interest,” the Associated Press said, quoting Qureshi.

Qureshi claimed that Pakistan has sheltered 3.5 million Afghan refugees over the years as the Taliban ravaged Afghanistan but “we can’t take more”.

President Joe Biden announced in April that the US will be withdrawing its troops stationed in Afghanistan by September 11. US forces had invaded the country following the September 11 twin tower attack, and Pakistan had joined the “war on terror” providing assistance in exchange of American support.

The foreign minister’s admission comes a day after Prime Minister Imran Khan told reporters that Pakistan will be sealing its border, the Durand Line, with Afghanistan if the Taliban attempts to take over the country with their military might.

“What if [the] Taliban try to take over Afghanistan through [the] military? Then we will seal the border because now we can, because we have fenced our border, which was previously [open], because Pakistan does not want to get into, number one, conflict. Secondly, we do not want another influx of refugees,” Khan said.

The Durand Line which separates Pakistan and Afghanistan has become a contentious issue for both countries ever since Pakistan started fencing it during Khan’s tenure. Afghanistan claims this geopolitical boundary drawn by British Colonial administrator Sir Henry Mortimer Durand in 1893 has no “legal sanctity”.

Pakistan on its part is hopeful that this 2,640 Kilometer long fenced barrier will deter a refugee influx of ethnic Pashtuns into the country if the Taliban take over. In 1989, after the Soviet Union had withdrawn its troops from Afghanistan a bloody civil car had broken out in the country, forcing millions of Afghans to cross over to Pakistan. Khan and his government, fearing a similar wave of refugees post US withdrawal, are racing against time to finish fencing its border hoping to keep history from repeating itself.

Khan criticised the decision to withdraw troops claiming that the leverage Pakistan had over the Taliban has been diminished by US withdrawing troops. “…reason is that the moment the United States gave a date of exit, Taliban basically claimed victory. They’re thinking that they won the war. And so, therefore, our ability to influence them diminishes the stronger they feel,” he said.

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