By Alex Rodriguez and Hashmat Baktash
8:50 AM PDT, May 2, 2013
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A border clash between Pakistani and Afghan forces that killed an Afghan police officer has renewed tension between the countries at a time when Washington is trying to step up their involvement in peace talks.
The skirmish occurred late Wednesday night and continued for several hours. Afghanistan's Interior Ministry spokesman, Sediq Sediqi, said Pakistani troops fired first on Afghan border guards in the Goshta district of Nangahar province, killing one officer and injuring two others. The firefight continued into early Thursday morning, Sediqi said.
A Pakistani military official confirmed that a clash at the border broke out late Wednesday night, but contended that the incident began when shots were fired from the Afghan side onto a Pakistani border post in the Mohmand tribal region, injuring two officers. Troops at the post then fired back, said the official, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak on such matters.
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement Thursday calling the gunfire from Afghan troops “unprovoked.” The ministry summoned Afghanistan’s charge d’affaires in Islamabad to protest the incident.
“This is not the first time that heavy fire was initiated from the Afghan side, causing heavy injury and damage to Pakistani structures,” the ministry said in its statement.
The clash occurred in an area that became a source of friction between the two countries last month when Afghan President Hamid Karzai accused Pakistan of building a border gate on the Afghan side of the frontier.
Pakistani officials said the gate was being constructed on the Pakistani side. In mid-April, the country’s military stated that the dispute had been “amicably resolved,” though it did not elaborate.
Afghan and Pakistani troops have clashed along the border several times in recent years, and each side has accused the other of cross-border shelling that has killed civilians.
Each country has also accused the other of giving sanctuary to Islamic militants. Afghan authorities have repeatedly claimed that Pakistan allows Taliban fighters to use tribal areas along the border as sanctuary. Pakistan, meanwhile, contends that Afghan and U.S. forces have never clamped down on Pakistani Taliban fighters that have used eastern Afghanistan as a staging area from which to launch attacks on Pakistani troops.
While Afghanistan and Pakistan maintain a tenuous relationship, Pakistan is seen as a key element in the pursuit of reconciliation between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents in that country after more than 11 years of war. U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry met with Karzai and Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayan in Brussels last week to try to help the countries overcome their differences.
Pakistan has longstanding ties with Afghan Taliban leaders dating back to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and many experts believe Islamabad continues to support Afghan insurgents.
However, with the United States and other countries preparing to withdraw most of their forces from Afghanistan by the end of next year, Islamabad is concerned that without a peace deal, civil war could sweep over Afghanistan. Such violence could spill over the porous border and embolden Pakistan’s own insurgency.
Staff writer Rodriguez reported from Islamabad, and special correspondent Baktash reported from Kabul, Afghanistan.
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times