ISIS attacks shutter trade along Afghan-Tajik border

By Muhammad Qasem

A truck carrying onions from Afghanistan to Tajikistan is seen May 15 at Sher Khan Bandar crossing in northern Afghanistan. [Abdul Khaliq Muradi]

A truck carrying onions from Afghanistan to Tajikistan is seen May 15 at Sher Khan Bandar crossing in northern Afghanistan. [Abdul Khaliq Muradi]

KUNDUZ -- Rockets fired by the the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) from Afghanistan towards Tajikistan have led to the closure of the Sher Khan Bandar crossing for commercial vehicles.

ISIS on May 7 fired missiles at Tajikistan from Khwaja Ghar district of Takhar province.

Tajikistan subsequently closed the Sher Khan Bandar crossing on May 8, stranding trucks on both sides of the border, according to Masood Wahdat, director of the Sher Khan Bandar export and import department.

"Afghanistan exports vegetables, fruits, handicrafts and cement [to Tajikistan], while it imports sugar, steel, gas and construction materials from Tajikistan," he said last Friday (May 20).

Efforts by both countries are ongoing to reopen the crossing for business, Wahdat said.

The crossing reopened temporarily Tuesday.

Afghan traders are suffering heavy losses due to the closure of Sher Khan Bandar border crossing, said Abdul Matin Yousufzai, acting director of the Kunduz Chamber of Commerce and Investment.

"Trucks full of export goods bound for Asian countries are unfortunately stranded at Sher Khan Bandar ... traders are suffering heavy financial losses," he said.

"Please do not politicise commerce and allow traders to continue their business," he said, addressing Afghan and Tajik officials. "Resolve your internal issues through dialogue."

"Each day of trucks being stranded results in losses to traders as well as in a hike of food prices in the markets," he added. "Therefore, the crossing must open as soon as possible."

Kunduz province, which shares a 270km-long border with Tajikistan, is connected to Tajikistan via a 670-metre-long bridge crucial for trade between the two countries.

Financial losses to the traders

Hashmatullah Musadeq, a trader in Sher Khan Bandar, said that five trucks transporting his commercial goods to Tajikistan are stranded at the border.

After being stranded for more than two weeks, "some of the foods -- including vegetables and fruits -- have spoiled, resulting in more than 1 million AFN [$11,268] in losses," Musadeq said.

"Goods belonging to several other traders are also on the verge of spoilage, as a result of which they will also lose millions of afghanis," he said.

"The spoilage of commercial goods on one hand and high tariffs, rent for storage and other expenses on the other have caused many problems for traders," he added.

"I brought steel two weeks ago from across the border to Afghanistan, and the crossing was closed before I could return," said Ismail, 44, a Tajik driver who goes by one name and is stranded in Sher Khan Bandar.

"Traders from both sides are faced with many problems due to the closure of the crossing," he said. "This has caused financial losses to both Afghan and Tajik traders."

"All of the storage facilities are full of commercial goods," he said. "It will be very risky for the traders if the situation continues this way."

The price of cement has increased in the past two weeks, said Shamsuddin Haidari, who sells construction material in Kunduz city.

"The price of a bag of Tajik cement was 360 AFN [$4], but it has now gone up to 420 AFN [$4.64]," he said.

"There has been a significant increase in the sale and purchase of construction materials, which is intolerable to shopkeepers as well as traders," he added.

ISIS a 'major threat'

The increase in ISIS attacks and recruitment efforts in Afghanistan is worrisome, political analysts and tribal elders warn.

ISIS is trying to strengthen its forces, which could become a serious threat to the future of Afghanistan, said Abdul Shukoor Saadi, a political analyst in Takhar.

"ISIS is the enemy of our people and religion," he said. "The group always targets civilians and is a major threat to the stability, security and authority of Afghanistan."

"The objective of the group is to become a physical and mental threat that can be used to destroy Afghanistan," he said.

The group's local Khorasan branch (ISIS-K) killed three members of the Shia community on May 19 in the Rustaqabad area of the 4th police district in Kunduz city.

ISIS also claimed responsibility for an explosion the next day that took place while the three victims were being buried and wounded nine Afghans.

"Poverty and unemployment have unfortunately created opportunities for ISIS to recruit fighters," said Rohullah Mirzada, a tribal elder from Badakhshan who now lives in Kabul. "ISIS will make Afghanistan its permanent base if this situation continues and if the international community does not take action."

"Poverty, unemployment, and political instability are the main factors that drive Afghans towards joining ISIS," he said.

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I think that in addition to the problem of ISIS, unprecedented unrest in Tajikistan's Badakhshan Autonomous Province has also played a role in closing the trade route between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. According to the BBC Farsi, the protests on Monday evening, May 26, in the autonomous province of Badakhshan in Tajikistan, left people dead and wounded. Tajikistan's Interior Ministry has confirmed that one person was killed and three police officers were injured in the outbreak in the provincial capital, Khorog. The province has since witnessed clashes between protesters and police. On 18 May, a number of people in the Roshan district of Badakhshan closed the Dushanbe-Khargh-Qalama road in order to prevent the transfer of government reinforcements to the city of Khargh (the capital of the province). Officials launched a "counter-terrorism operation" in Roshan on Wednesday, May 19, calling the protesters "criminal, extremist and terrorist groups." Later in the day, the Tajik Interior Ministry announced the crackdown on protesters in Roshan and the death of 10 people in the protests. Speaking to the media, local residents denied that the protesters were armed and said that the government forces had opened fire on the civilians, none of whom had anything to do with "terrorism and extremism". According to locals, the actual death toll is much higher than the Interior Ministry has confirmed.


ISIS is indeed active in Afghanistan, but it is the responsibility of the government to repel the attacks. And it is not worth cutting off trade relations with one country for a few bullets and millions of people to face food shortages. The closure of the border is hurting Afghan farmers and traders on both sides. Afghanistan has both exports and imports to Tajikistan, So the border should not be closed. Afghanistan's markets are facing food shortages, according to the latest UNOCHA data. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has said that the demand for food in Afghanistan has increased. On the contrary, commodities prices have gone up, which people cannot afford. So I would say that talking about governments is not a joke. The rulers here (the Taliban) should solve their problems with the neighboring countries. What has come up is the problem of the Taliban; if it is the people, why did they not exist eight months ago? But now they have to solve their problems independently and free the people from this problem. They may not dance for the drum of Pakistan.