Afghan, Pakistani forces again clash on disputed border; NATO troops broker truce


Afghan border Police take up positions near the Pak-Afghan border in Goshta disctrict of Nangarhar province, Pakistan, 02 May 2013. (ABDUL MUEED/EPA)
May 6, 2013

Afghan and Pakistani forces exchanged fire along a disputed border Monday, the second clash of its kind in less than a week.

Both sides used artillery and mortar rounds in the two-hour skirmish in the Goshta area of eastern Afghanistan’s Nangahar province. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force brokered a cease-fire, a senior Afghan general said.

The fighting erupted when Pakistani forces began to repair an outpost that was the focus of a clash Wednesday in which an Afghan border police officer was killed.

Gul Nabi Ahmadzai, the commander of the Afghan border police, said Afghan forces did not suffer any casualties Monday. He said he was not aware of any injuries or deaths on the Pakistani side.

The clashes seem likely to add to the growing uneasiness between Afghanistan and Pakistan, both crucial to Washington in its efforts against the Taliban. Pakistan was a main supporter of the Taliban when it ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Many of the Taliban’s fugitive leaders live in Pakistani territory. Washington views cooperation from Islamabad as crucial in helping to end the violence in Afghanistan as most international troops prepare to leave the region by the end of 2014.

Washington is pushing Islamabad to persuade the Taliban to join talks with Kabul before the troop withdrawal. But many Afghan leaders say Pakistan is trying to use the militants to maximize its influence in Kabul after the Western pullout.

Kabul recently accused Pakistan of arresting and killing a number of Afghan Taliban members who were staying in Pakistan and had expressed a willingness to enter into peace talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s administration. Pakistan rejects the charges.

Pakistani officials say they have in the past met Karzai’s requests to support a peace process, including twice releasing Taliban prisoners held in Pakistan. But so far as is publicly known, the overture has not produced results, and some of the prisoners are thought to have returned to the battlefield.

Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, a spokesman for the Pakistan Foreign Ministry, said in a statement, “Pakistan will continue its support for the Afghan reconciliation process, rather than focusing on the negatives.”

Karzai last month ordered his top officials to remove a gate and other Pakistani military installations that reportedly had been erected in the Goshta area along the disputed border, which was drawn by the British in the 19th century, when Pakistan was part of India and the latter was part of the British empire. Afghanistan has never accepted the border designation.

Chaudhry called the border “a settled issue” and a “distraction” from the pressing need for cooperation between the neighbors in the fight against terrorism.

The clash on Wednesday appears to have been sparked when Pakistani border forces tried to build a gate at the Goshta outpost, which it had set up months earlier. Ahmadzai said the Pakistanis have pledged as part of the NATO-brokered truce to stop setting up or rebuilding gates and outposts in the border region.

Richard Leiby contributed to this report.

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