PESAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan's prime minister ordered the reopening of the country's border with Afghanistan on Monday, ending a protracted closure that has cost businesses on both sides millions of dollars and deepened tensions between the two neighbors.
Calling it a "goodwill gesture," Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered the opening of all the crossings along the boundary, considered the busiest and most lucrative border crossings in South Asia.
Pakistan closed the border in mid-February following a string of deadly militant attacks that Islamabad has blamed on militants hiding in Afghanistan.
Since then, traders have complained of daily losses and prices of goods imported from Pakistan rose sharply in Afghanistan.
Pakistan and Afghanistan often accuse the other of harboring militants. They have also exchanged lists of insurgents each says are hiding in the other's country, demanding action. Afghanistan has also sent Pakistan the location of 23 suspected insurgent training camps it says are operating on its territory.
There has been no information from either Kabul or Islamabad that any insurgents have been handed over.
Sharif said he decided on reopening the border because of shared cultural and religious ties between the two nations, as well as the economic losses incurred by the closure — despite the presence of militants still in Afghanistan.
Ziaul Haq Sarhadi, of a joint Pakistan-Afghan chamber of commerce, urged Sharif's government to move quickly to notify the border administration, which he said was still waiting for instructions to open the border.
However, news of the border opening spread quickly and convoys of trucks that had been waiting to cross began moving toward the border later Monday.
Lal Rahim Shinwari, president of the Traders Association, told The Associated Press that the opening is late in coming but still welcome.
"We have suffered losses on both sides," he said, speaking from Landi Kotal, which is near the border. He said the timing was auspicious as people in Afghanistan are preparing to celebrate the Persian New Year of Nawroz on Tuesday.
"We hope that trade and business will flourish without any further interruptions," he added.
The deputy spokesman of the Afghan foreign ministry, Khairullah Azad, said that closing borders "can't be the solution to problems and can't help us fight terrorism — that needs a strong commitment and of course, practical action."
"Border closure can be harmful and can have negative impact on both Afghanistan and Pakistan, so once again, we appreciate and welcome the decision made to reopen the border," he added.
Associated Press Writer Rahim Faiez in Kabul contributed to this report.