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Chaman border remains volatile

Top Story

August 1, 2020

Chaman border remains volatile

ISLAMABAD: Tension prevailed at the Pak-Afghan border in Chaman on the second consecutive day on Friday after clashes between Pakistan’s border forces and people trying to cross into Afghanistan on Thursday left 15 people dead after which the Pakistan Army took over the control of the border crossing.

Differing accounts emerged from Kabul and Islamabad, with Afghan officials accusing Pakistan of firing shells and gunfire across the border into a crowd of civilians, killing 15 people. The incident unfolded on Thursday when about 150 people gathered on the Pakistani side of the Chaman-Spin Boldak border crossing, many of them hoping to visit loved ones in Afghanistan for Eid, Usman Ali, the commissioner for the Quetta, told AFP.

The normally busy crossing has been largely closed for months in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus, but was briefly opened Thursday morning. Usman Ali said protesters grew angry when the crossing point was again closed in the afternoon.

"Frontier Corps troops deployed on the border fired into the air. This did not kill anyone but later protesters started throwing stones at the troops," Usman Ali said. He said the border guards then threw stones back, killing five protesters. He denied the guards had opened fire on people.

The Foreign Office said the firing incident at its border with Afghanistan at Chaman, that resulted in casualties, was an act of self-defence to protect local population. "It is reiterated that Pakistan force did not open fire first and responded in self-defence only," a Foreign Office statement said.

"Pakistani troops responded to protect our local population and acted only in self-defence," it said, adding that the Friendship Gate Chaman on Thursday, the Afghan forces opened unprovoked fire on innocent civilians gathered towards Pakistan’s side of the international border.

Pakistan troops deployed on the posts were also simultaneously engaged by Afghan posts, it said. "To de-escalate the situation, the Pakistan side immediately activated both military and diplomatic channels and it was after hectic efforts that the firing was stopped from Afghan side," it said.

The foreign office said, "It must be noted that the borders with Afghanistan were opened for pedestrian movement and trade upon the request of the Afghan authorities." "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," it said.

It mentioned that due to Eidul Azha, pedestrians’ move was also allowed. It said people gathered for this purpose were deliberately targeted by Afghan forces for incomprehensible reasons.

"This unfortunate incident resulted in numerous casualties and deliberate/serious damage to state infrastructure on the Pakistan side," it said. The statement mentioned that there were, reportedly, unfortunate losses on the Afghan side as well.

"All this could have been avoided if fire had not been initiated from the Afghan side," it said. Pakistan reiterated 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," it said. Meanwhile, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Senator Shibli Faraz said tension erupted and posts were also damaged when some people at the Chaman border crossing tried to forcibly cross over from a post, and in the meantime, there were fires from Afghan side.

Speaking at a news conference, the minister said that then there was reaction from Pakistani side as well. He said the PTI government was committed to sticking to the established international practices with regard to its border with Afghanistan.

He maintained that Pakistan had always facilitated transportation of essential goods to Afghanistan from its borders, as it was a landlocked country. He noted that Pakistan and Afghanistan enjoyed brotherly relations, which also a historical perspective.

He explained that before Eid borders had to be closed but movement of essential items to Afghanistan was allowed and for this an understanding was reached with them that one side of the border would be opened for movement of supplies to the landlocked country.

The minister explained that accordingly, Torkham, Ghulam Khan, Angoor Adda and Chaman borders were opened for a day and then shut before Eid, which would witness movement of 2,500-3,000 people and majority of them left the place and a few hundred were left behind.

He further elaborated as to how the unfortunate incident happened and said that smuggling also was carried out from the Chaman border and tension erupted when some of them after having been incited, by the vested interests, tried to forcibly cross over; then there were fires from Afghan side. And Pakistani forces also reacted.

The minister said the government wanted documentation of all those, who crossed over the border, as miscreants had also been using these places. He added that for this some strictness was also shown to ensure that no unwanted element exploited these places in line with an entry-exit protocol.

This, he explained, was in line with the international practices to secure and monitor borders and certain vested interests were unhappy over these measures. Shibli requested the Afghan government to also cooperate in the fulfillment of this international obligation of facilitation in ensuring transport of essential goods to their country as per rules and regulation. He reiterated Pakistan, like in the past, would continue extending cooperation to Kabul on this count.

He was confident that both sides would normalise after the incident and no such incident would take place in future and immediately the required measures must be taken also for implementation of the entry-exit protocol.