The layout of the border gate issued by the ISPR on Monday.
The layout of the border gate issued by the ISPR on Monday.

ISLAMABAD/LANDI KOTAL: The Foreign Office summoned the acting Afghan envoy on Monday to express anger over unprovoked firing by Afghan troops at the Torkham border crossing which reportedly left several Pakistani troops and civilians injured.

The incident took place on Sunday when Afghan forces fired at Pakistan troops from across the border to prevent the construction of a gate at the crossing point. The skirmish also left a soldier dead and six wounded on the Afghan side. The exchange of firing continued for about seven hours on Sunday and resumed on Monday.

Six Pakistani civilians and 10 security personnel, including Major Jawwad, Lieutenant Aamir and a junior commissioned officer, were injured. The injured troops belong to the army, FC and Khasadar Force.

“Afghan Charge d’ Affaires was called to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs …. The Charge d’ Affaires was told that the firing incident was contrary to the spirit of friendly relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan,” an FO statement said.

The Afghan government does not recognise the border and has always resisted attempts to regulate it including its fencing.

The FO statement explained that the gate was being constructed for “facilitating cross-border movement” and that Kabul had been intimated about the government policy about regulating the crossings.

The FO said the Afghan government had been asked to investigate the Torkham incident and take steps to prevent its recurrence. Afghanistan was further urged to cooperate in border management for enhancing mutual security and combating terrorism threat.

Meanwhile at a meeting in Kabul, Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah defended the action and said bilateral understandings required mutual consent before construction of new installations near the border, according to VoA.

“The Afghan security and defence forces retaliated to safeguard the territorial integrity and defend the country and its people ... armed forces are always ready to defend their country and people and to react against any kind of threats,” the Afghan foreign ministry said in a separate statement.

The firing erupted again on Monday afternoon when Pakistani border forces restarted installation of the gate inside its own territory near the Torkham border’s zero-point.

Khyber Agency’s political agent Khalid Mehmud told Dawn that they waited in vain till late afternoon after the Afghan side had requested for a meeting to resolve the issue through negotiations.

“We restarted the installation of the gate after no one from the Afghan side turned up for meeting,” he said, adding that only minutes later the Afghan side again resorted to heavy firing which led to the suspension of work on the installation of the gate.

A Nadra office near the border was also hit by Afghan firing.

Earlier in the day, the border crossing remained completely closed for all types of traffic and pedestrian movement as a tense calm prevailed at the border after the overnight exchange of heavy gunfire between border forces of the two countries.

A late-night official statement by the Pakistan Army accused the Afghan border guards of resorting to unprovoked firing when work began on installation of the gate on the Pakistani side of the border.

“Torkham is the most frequented crossing point at Pak-Afghan border and recently even most of the terrorists have been found using this gate for entry. In order to check movement of terrorists through Torkham, Pakistan is constructing a gate on its own side of the border as a necessity to check unwanted and illegal movement,” the brief statement said, adding that Pakistani security forces responded to Afghan firing effectively.

The latest escalation followed last month’s closure of the Torkham border crossing after the Afghan border guards objected to the construction of the gate.

The border remained closed for five days and was reopened last month following a meeting between Afghan Ambassador Dr Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal and Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif.

Political agent Khalid Mehmud said the Afghan side fired mortars, rockets and artillery into Pakistani territory following the exchange of fire that began at 9.20pm.

“Before beginning the construction work, we duly informed the Afghan side, although we are under no obligation to do so under international law,” he said.

“The Afghan commander went back, switched off the lights on the other side and before we could figure out what had happened they started shelling and firing in our direction,” Mr Mehmud said.

Sporadic and intermittent fire continued till early Monday morning. “We have to respond. This is an international border and we are following our agreement that no construction work will be done within 30 metres of either side of the border,” he said.

Work on construction and uplift of the border post was stopped following the skirmish, but the administrator said it was being resumed no matter what reaction would be from the other side.

A curfew has been imposed within the seven-kilometre radius to avoid civilian casualties and no movement of vehicle is being allowed. “We don’t want civilians and transporters to get caught in a bad situation,” the administrator said.

Pakistan has tightened its border and reinforced immigration rules since the beginning of this month, allowing entry to only those people who have valid travel documents. Thousands of people use the Torkham crossing which serves as the main supply line for goods and other material to Afghanistan as well as US-led coalition forces.

Published in Dawn, June 14th, 2016