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    Friday, May 5, 2017

    Eleven people were killed as Afghan border forces opened fire on security personnel

    Backed by artillery, Afghan security forces fired across the border on Pakistani census workers and troops escorting them, killing 11 civilians and wounding 46, including women and children, Pakistani officials said Friday.

    The Pakistani government and military officials said the artillery rounds were unprovoked but Afghan provincial officials claimed the Pakistanis fired first, wounding two Afghan policemen.
    Friday’s incident in the border town of Chaman in Balochistan was the latest escalation between the two neighbours who share a volatile and porous boundary.
    Army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said the security forces shut the border crossing in Chaman in response to the early morning attack, blocking all movement of people and supplies to its landlocked neighbour.
    Residents in the area said Pakistani and Afghan security personnel exchanged fire using light and heavy weapons.
    “So far, we have received nine bodies. These civilians were killed as a result of the Afghan shelling,” said Akhtar Mohammad, a doctor at the state-run hospital in Chaman. He said some of the wounded were in critical condition.
    Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif issued a statement describing the Afghan firing as an “unfortunate.” He urged Kabul to put an end to cross-border attacks, warning that they threaten efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan.
    Foreign Office spokesman Nafeez Zakaria said the census workers were on their side of the border when Afghan forces opened fire.
    According to local residents, dozens of shells slammed into nearby villages, as well as close to the regional headquarters of Pakistan’s paramilitary forces. Several of the wounded said their homes were destroyed in the exchange.
    Yet Zia Durrani, a spokesman for the police chief in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, blamed Pakistan for initiating the gunbattle. He accused Islamabad of using the census as a mask to conceal the crossing of militants from Pakistan into Afghanistan.
    In Islamabad, the foreign ministry said it had summoned Afghanistan’s chargé d’affaires to complain about the firing.
    General Ghafoor, meanwhile, accused Afghan forces of creating obstacles for census workers in villages divided by the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. He did not elaborate on what those obstacles entailed.
    Pakistan shares a 2,200-kilometre- (1,375 mile-) long porous border with Afghanistan.
    Pakistan currently hosts 1.5 million registered Afghan refugees and another 1 million unregistered. They routinely get caught in the middle when tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan escalate.
    Pakistan started conducting a nationwide census in mid-March, with officials going door-to-door to collect information.
    The census – Pakistan’s first since 1998 - has reignited a centuries-old border dispute between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The boundary, known as the Durand Line - named for Sir Henry Mortimer Durand, the former British diplomat who first established the border in 1896 - runs through vast ethnic Pashtoon areas on both sides, in some places straight through villages.
    Any attempt to make the border a permanent one has been fiercely opposed by Afghanistan. The two countries routinely squabble over the disputed border line, incidents which at times escalate into armed conflict.
    In March this year former Afghan president Hamid Karzai again said that Afghanistan would never accept the Durand Line as an international border, stoking fears on the Pakistani side.At least nine people were killed as Afghan border forces opened fire on security personnel guarding a census team in Balochistan's Chaman areaearly Friday, police said.
    Killa Abdullah's District Police Officer (DPO) Sajid Mohmand said 29 people were also injured due to firing from the Afghan side. All the dead and injured belong to the Killi Luqman and Killi Jahangir areas of Chaman.
    "Five seriously wounded people were sent to Quetta for medical treatment," the medical superintendent of the Chaman Civil Hospital, Dr Akhtar, said.
    Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) had earlier released a statementsaying Afghan Border Police opened fire on Frontier Corps (FC) personnel detailed for the security of a census team in Chaman, leaving one person dead and 18 injured. The death toll has subsequently risen to seven.
    Four FC Balochistan men are among those injured.
    "Since 30th April, Afghan Border Police had been creating hurdles in [the] conduct of census in divided villages of Killi Luqman and Killi Jahangir in Chaman area, on Pakistani side of the border," the military's media wing said.
    ISPR said the Afghan border guards' firing comes despite the fact that Afghan authorities had been informed in advance about the census exercise in Pakistan and coordination was carried out through diplomatic and military channels.
    But Samim Khpalwak, spokesman for the governor of Afghanistan's Kandahar province, said the Pakistani officials had strayed on to the Afghan side of the border and were attempting to count people living there.
    “So far in the fighting, we have one Afghan civilian killed and three border police forces wounded,” he told AFP, adding that the scuffle was still going on, with “dozens” of Afghan security forces rushing to the scene.

    Border crossing sealed

    The Chaman border crossing has been sealed as Pakistani and Afghan troops continue to exchange fire, the ISPR press release said.
    Meanwhile, security forces have asked the residents of villages affected by the firing to evacuate.
    During the cross-border "attack", mortar shells fired from the Afghan side hit houses in a village of Killi Luqman, leaving one person dead and many others injured, Station House Officer (SHO) Chaman Maqsood said. At least three children are among the injured.
    He said the injured were shifted to the Civil Hospital Chaman, where an emergency has been imposed. Four of the injured are said to be in critical condition.
    The slain man has been identified as 17-year-old Mohammad Ashraf.
    "We were sleeping when we suddenly heard firing and blasts," Haji Ayub, a resident of Killi Jahangir told DawnNews. "We immediately left our houses and came to Chaman bazaar."
    Abdul Mateen, a resident of Killi Luqman said FC personnel were guarding the census staff in his village when the Afghan forces opened fire on them.
    "I lost a close relative in the attack," he said.

    Tense relations

    Pakistan had closed its borders with Afghanistan at Chaman and Torkham on Feb 18 after a series of terrorist attacks in the country killed over 100 people. Militants having sanctuaries in Afghanistan were blamed for the attacks.
    After over a month of closure, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had ordered the reopening of the borders as a goodwill gesture.
    The latest violence at Pak-Afghan border has come days after the visits of two high-profile Pakistani delegations to Afghanistan aimed at easing the tensions between the neighbouring states.
    Speaking to the media upon his return from Kabul, NA Speaker Ayaz Sadiq had said that the Afghan leadership had "promised" that the Afghan president and the country's Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah would visit Pakistan.
    However, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani recently declined invitations extended by top civil and military officials to visit Pakistan, saying he would not visit until Islamabad hands over the perpetrators of terror attacks in Afghanistan.
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    Item Reviewed: Eleven people were killed as Afghan border forces opened fire on security personnel Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Abdul Sattar Qamar