40 injured as shelling continues from across the border for 10 hours; three Afghan check posts destroyed, several soldiers killed as Pakistani troops retaliate; Bab-e-Dosti at Chaman border shut down; Pakistan lodges strong protest with Afghanistan; says India using Afghan soil to destabilise Pakistan; ISPR says hotline contact established between Pak-Afghan DGMOs
ISLAMABAD: In a merciless act, the Afghan border forces martyred 11 Pakistanis, including a soldier, and injured over 40 others in the Chaman area of Balochistan, despite the fact that Pakistan had conveyed well in advance that Pakistani authorities were undertaking a population census in the area.
The shelling continued from the Afghan side for 10 hours, while the Pakistani troops also promptly retaliated and killed several Afghan soldiers besides destroying their three check posts.
The gunfight prompted the Pakistani authorities to shut down the Bab-e-Dosti border gate in Chaman -- which leads from Balochistan into Kandahar, and is one of only two major crossing points -- and summon the Afghan Chargd'Affairs in Islamabad to record protest.
In a statement, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said it was Afghanistan's responsibility to "ensure that such incidents are permanently stopped".
In a statement, he strongly condemned the incident and expressed profound grief and sorrow over the loss of precious human lives and injuries caused to the civilians and personnel of law enforcement agencies.
Terming the incident as most unfortunate, the prime minister said that recurrence of such incidents is contrary to our efforts for achieving peace and stability in the region. The prime minister extended his heartfelt condolences and sympathies to the affected families and directed the concerned authorities for treatment of the injured.
Meanwhile, Samim Khpalwak, spokesman for the governor of Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province, alleged that the Pakistani census officials had strayed on to the Afghan side of the border and were attempting to count people living there. The census enumerators are being accompanied by security forces as they carry out the count. Kandahar police chief Abdul Raziq said one civilian was killed and up to 17 Afghan troops wounded, adding he had asked his men to hold fire -- unless Pakistani forces begin shooting again.
After the incident, Islamabad sent out a clear warning to the Afghan leadership saying in case, Afghanistan does not take measures to stop its provocations, Pakistan reserves the right to fully respond with a view to protect its sovereignty and citizens.
"Pakistan expresses its deep concern and the Afghan Charge d' Affairs was summoned to the Foreign Office today (Friday) to lodge a strong protest over the unprovoked firing by the Afghan forces in Chaman area. Action should be taken against those responsible for this violation and the Afghan government should take immediate steps to bring an end to this unprovoked firing," spokesman at the Foreign Office told the weekly media briefing.
In the past, Pakistan-based militants had been taking out members of the census team in different areas of the country. While Pakistan is facing the heat on its eastern borders where skirmishes continue at the Line of Control, Friday's firing across its western borders has added to regional instability.
Kabul was told that the Afghan firing took place when the census teams were undertaking population census in that area as part of the national census exercise all over the country. The Afghan government was informed about the census being undertaken on Pakistan's side of the border and exact coordinates of the areas were also shared with the Afghan government.
Pakistan also blamed India for using the Afghanistan territory against Pakistan. "We have continued to underline that 'India is part of the problem and not solution'. India is also using Afghan soil for its nefarious designs to destabilise Pakistan and spoil Pak-Afghan relations," said the spokesman.
The Afghan Charge d' Affairs was conveyed that Pakistani authorities were undertaking the population census and this information had been shared with Afghan government earlier. "The unprovoked firing from the Afghan side not only led to the loss of precious lives and injured many, but has also disrupted census in areas on the Pakistan side of the border and caused damage to properties," he added.
While there appears to be no provocation for Friday's reckless killing of unarmed Pakistanis, the spokesman pointed out that the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is clearly demarcated.
"All the locations are authenticated by maps available with the two governments. Pakistan is undertaking census in its own areas, which is our sovereign right. The Afghan side should immediately withdraw those elements who are perpetrating these hostilities with a view to ensure peace and tranquility on the border," he pointed out.
The border killings came at a time when Islamabad has taken extra steps to improve relations with the landlocked country which instead of looking inwards conveniently blames Pakistan for all its problems. After a high-level army delegation visited Kabul, recently Speaker National Assembly Ayaz Sadiq headed a delegation with parliamentarians from both Houses of Parliament. To a query, the spokesman also pointed to this, saying that this was an important visit as part of Pakistan's efforts to strengthen and institutionalise parliamentary exchanges.
"Our delegation conveyed to the Afghan leadership the importance we attach to relations with Afghanistan. The two sides agreed on the need of constructive engagement. We are looking forward to continued exchanges between the two countries. Pakistan sincerely pursues the policy of strengthening relations and peace and stability in Afghanistan. The relationship between the two peoples is centuries old," he said.
Pakistan stressed that the problems of Afghanistan are internal. "Externalising Afghanistan's problems and blaming others for the continued instability in their country does not help. It would be in the interest of everyone that such accusations are avoided as they serve no purpose," said the spokesman.
As former warlords enter Kabul to work with the Ghani government to reach out to the Afghan Taliban, Pakistan pointed out that for lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan the politically negotiated settlement is the most viable option.
"We believe that both the parties i.e. Afghan government and the Taliban should consider reaching a peaceful settlement through an Afghan-owned Afghan-led peace process," said the spokesman.
Meanwhile, as atrocities against the people of Kashmir are being taken to new heights by Indian security forces, the spokesman commented on the recent remarks by a well-known Kashmiri expert, former RAW chief, AS Daulat, who said that the situation in Kashmir was fast slipping out of Modi's hands.
"Let me reiterate that it is not just one person, but many in India itself and also outside India, especially in the UK, Europe, Western democracies, at OIC and the UN that are deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation in IHK. We have said a lot about what is happening over there. The ground reality is that there is an indigenous self-determination movement in IHK, which has entered in its current phase after the extra-judicial killing of Kashmiri youth leader Burhan Muzaffar Wani on July 08, 2016," said the spokesman.|
Meanwhile, hotline contact was established between Director General Military Operations (DGMOs) of Pakistan and Afghanistan over the issue of unprovoked firing by Afghan forces at the Chaman border, DG ISPR Major General Asif Ghafoor said.
The Pakistan Army’s DGMO Major General Sahir Shamshad Mirza condemned the unprovoked firing on Pakistani villagers and security forces, which caused casualties in villages at the Pakistan side of Chaman border. He told the Afghan DGMO that there are civilians residing in villages situated on both sides of Pak-Afghan border. The Afghan DGMO acknowledged that border was in between villages and not at the ditch which is well inside Pakistan as being perceived by them. Sahir Mirza told his counterpart that they shall continue their work within their border.
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