Islamabad, Kabul trade charges over Chaman clash

Updated 01 Aug 2020

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Pakistani officials offering sweets and bouquets to their Afghan counterparts at the Torkham border crossing. Eidul Azha celebration in Afghanistan began on Friday.
Pakistani officials offering sweets and bouquets to their Afghan counterparts at the Torkham border crossing. Eidul Azha celebration in Afghanistan began on Friday.

• Pakistani troops responded to firing by Afghan forces: FO
• Minister says certain people tried to cross the border forcibly
• Pakistani forces give sweets and bouquets to Afghans at Torkham crossing

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Afghanistan on Friday traded allegations over deadly border firing incident that caused casualties on both sides.

The Foreign Office said in a late evening statement that Pakistani troops had responded to firing by the Afghan forces. “Pakistani Force did not open fire first and responded in self-defence only,” the FO said, rejecting Afghan allegation of firing at the civilian population.

Information Minister Senator Shibli Faraz said certain people had tried to cross the Chaman border forcibly and at the same time gunshots were fired from the Afghan side.

The incident took place on Thursday after an unruly mob attacked the Frontier Corps offices and a quarantine centre at the Chaman border crossing following a protest over restrictions on pedestrian crossing because of Covid-19 pandemic. In the ensuing clash, four people were killed.

Afghan authorities had claimed that 15 people were killed in Spin Boldak due to the shelling.

In sharp contrast to the tense situation at the Chaman-Spin Boldak crossing, Pakistani border security forces gave sweets and bouquets to Afghans at the Torkham crossing on the occasion of Eidul Azha. Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Ambassador Mohammad Sadiq tweeted a picture of Afghan civilian officials receiving packs of sweets and flower bouquets from Pakistani military personnel.

“Pakistan is undertaking concerted efforts to ensure regulated movement of trade between the two countries, which are being challenged by elements opposed to such regulation,” the Foreign Office explained.

It recalled that the cross-border trade was allowed on the Afghan government’s request. “Moreover, due to Eidul Azha, pedestrians’ move was also allowed. People gathered for this purpose were deliberately targeted by Afghan forces for incomprehensible reasons,” it added.

The FO accused Afghan forces of firing on civilians gathered on the Pakistani side of the international border. Pakistani troops at the border, it said, were also fired upon from the Afghan posts.

“Pakistani troops responded to protect our local population and acted only in self-defence,” it emphasised.

Addressing a news conference, the information minister said Pakistan was fulfilling its responsibility as a neighbour of a landlocked country by allowing Afghan Transit Trade (ATT) to reach its border.

“However, it is a principled stance of the PTI to ensure that borders are secured, regulated and managed as per the international standards,” he said, adding that this was also one of the measures to curb smuggling and illegal movement of people between the two countries.

The border crossing was opened on Wednesday after remaining closed for several weeks, allowing people to travel on both sides.

Shibli Faraz said three border crossings between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which had been closed for some time, were opened for Eid and most of the people had cleared the area but a few hundred persons remained at the Chaman border.

“They tried to cross into Afghanistan by force and also damaged our posts, and unfortunately at the same time shots were fired from the other side. While we have maintained cordial friendly and brotherly relations with Afghanistan, we expect the same attitude from them too,” he added.

The minister said Pakistan was trying to normalise the situation but reiterated that standard protocols related to travel through legal documents would continue.

Reports in Afghan media too said that the Afghan forces acted while the unrest was happening on the Pakistani side on Thursday. “Pakistani forces reportedly opened fire on the protesters. In response to Pakistani security forces, the Afghan border forces came in action and exchanged fire with Pakistani forces,” Afghan Islamic Press said in its report.

The Foreign Office regretted that the avoidable exchange resulted in losses on both sides. “This unfortunate incident resulted in numerous casualties and deliberate/serious damage to state infrastructure on the Pakistan side,” it said.

“There were, reportedly, unfortunate losses on the Afghan side as well. All this could have been avoided if the fire had not been initiated from the Afghan side,” the FO said while conceding losses across the border.

It said military and diplomatic channels were used to defuse the situation and the military engagement ended after “hectic efforts”. The military clash stopped once the Afghan side stopped firing.

“Pakistan reiterates its sincere readiness to further enhance fraternal relations with Afghanistan in the interest of peace and stability in the region. We hope our constructive efforts will be reciprocated,” the FO said.

Despite conciliatory signals from Pakistan, the Afghan side appeared aggressive, at least in its post-clash tone.

According to a statement from the Afghan defence ministry, Chief of General Staff of the Afghan Armed Forces Gen Muhammad Yasin Zia ordered “befitting response” to Pakistani troops. He directed provision of small and heavy weapons to the Afghan forces deployed along the border.

The Afghan National Security Council, meanwhile, in a statement said the matter would be pursued through relevant channels and “required action” will be taken.

Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2020