Pakistan fired a barrage of rockets across its south-western border killing nine people and wounding 50 in an Afghan border town, Afghan officials said on Friday.
The exchange of fire that led to casualties in the town of Spinboldak was instigated by Afghan border guards, Pakistan security officials said. It was the latest cross-border exchange between the two countries. Earlier this month, Pakistan fired rockets into Afghanistan’s northeastern Kunar province killing three people.
Cross-border exchanges have increased since Pakistan began raising a fence along its 2,500-kilometre border with Afghanistan known as the Durand Line. Pakistan considers the colonial-era division created in 1893 as an international border, while Afghanistan flatly rejects it.
Pakistan began building the fence in 2017 and since then the two sides have routinely exchanged fire. Pakistan says it needs the fence to block militants from crossing. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan accuse the other of harbouring their enemies.
Pakistan has been repeatedly accused by Kabul and the United States of providing safe haven to Afghan Taliban insurgents, while Islamabad says Pakistani insurgents have found a sanctuary in Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province. They include the Balochistan Liberation Army, who claimed an attack on the stock exchange building in Karachi on June 29.
Pakistan also says anti-government Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) insurgents are hiding in Afghanistan.
A UN report earlier this month said up to 6,500 Pakistani militants, most of them belonging to the TTP, are hiding in Afghanistan, maintaining links to the ISIS affiliate there and posing a threat to both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
On Friday, an Afghan Defence Ministry statement said rockets fired by Pakistan pummeled Spinboldak late on Thursday. The statement said Afghan security forces retaliated.
Two Pakistani security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Afghan security forces initiated the attack.
They said the cross-border exchange took place hours after Pakistani troops had been deployed to Chaman in south-western Balochistan province on the Pakistan side of the border, opposite Spinboldak.
The troops were deployed to contain hundreds of demonstrators who had gathered at the Chaman border crossing on Thursday to protest against its continued closure because of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown.
Three people were killed when troops opened fire on the crowd.
After the Pakistan military opened fire, Afghan security guards from across the border began firing, the Pakistani security officials said. Pakistan retaliated.
Hundreds of ethnic Pashtuns living in Pakistan work in Afghanistan and many Afghans live in Pakistan.
Pakistan has opened the border to trade but it is still closed to daily wage earners who work on one side of the border and live on the other, in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.
Updated: July 31, 2020 05:42 PM