KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — An Afghan border policeman was killed in an exchange of fire with Pakistani troops along the country’s contested eastern border, an Afghan security official said Thursday, in an incident that threatens to further inflame tensions between the neighboring countries.
Pakistani forces fired artillery rounds late Wednesday at Afghan border police in the Goshta district of eastern Nangarhar province, according to Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi. In an ensuing five-hour firefight, one border policeman was killed, he said.
Pakistan’s government blamed Afghan forces for opening fire at a border post and described the incident as one of many “repeated violations” of the borderline. A statement said two Pakistani paramilitary soldiers were wounded.
“This is not the first time that the heavy fire was initiated from the Afghan side causing heavy injury and damage to the Pakistani structures,” the Pakistani Foreign Office said in a statement. It added that the Afghan ambassador to Islamabad was summoned to the ministry and a complaint was filed.
Earlier, a Pakistani military official who confirmed the exchange of fire had said it involved Afghan militants firing at his country’s border forces.
Ties between the two neighbors have been severely strained in recent months, and the mountainous region where the latest shooting took place has seen acrimonious exchanges between the two sides over the demarcation of their border.
The two neighbors often trade accusations that each side is firing across the border, and Pakistan has said in the past that it is targeting insurgents who are seeking to enter its territory.
The Pakistani Foreign Office asked Afghanistan to use procedures already in place, and set out in a recent agreement, that allow forces on both sides of the border to communicate with each other to avoid such incidents
A Pakistani official had earlier said that a group of militants from the Afghan side of the border attacked a Pakistani post in the Mohmand tribal region, sparking the gunbattle. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with Pakistani military policy.
A western military official, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said the Pakistanis fired tank rounds into the Afghan side of the border as part of the exchange of fire. The official said it was not clear what started the skirmish, which was observed remotely by the U.S.-led coalition.
Afghan accusations that Pakistan is allegedly trying to torpedo efforts to start peace talks with the Taliban have also contributed to deteriorating relations. Both countries have also accused each other of providing shelter for insurgents fighting on the other side of the border.
Last month, Afghan President Hamid Karzai charged that Pakistan was setting up a border gate in the Goshta district without asking Kabul’s permission. He ordered his ministries of foreign affairs, defense and interior to remove the gate and all installations around it.
However, it remains unclear how they would do that as Pakistan claims the facility is on its territory. But Afghanistan does not recognize the disputed Durand Line, the 19th century demarcation between present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan as its border. Pakistan accepts the line as the boundary between the two sides.
Also, Afghanistan has been deeply suspicious of the motives of a government in Islamabad that long backed the Taliban regime and has since seemed unable or unwilling to go after militant leaders taking refuge inside its borders. The killing of al-Qaida chief, Osama bin Laden, in Pakistan only strengthened Afghan wariness of his neighbor.
The contested border has created problems for the United States.
In late 2011, the Pakistani government closed all land routes to NATO cargo traffic after U.S. airstrikes along the border killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. The routes were reopened more than seven months later after the U.S. apologized for the incident. During the closure, the U.S. was forced to use more costly and lengthy routes into Afghanistan through Central Asia.
In an effort to defuse tensions, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry brought Karzai and Pakistani military chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani together in Brussels last month for security talks aimed at improving relations ahead of next year’s withdrawal of most NATO combat forces from Afghanistan.
The meeting lasted about three hours but apparently did little to ease Afghanistan-Pakistan tensions as all sides try to lure the Taliban to peace negotiations.
Associated Press writer Anwarullah Khan in Khar, Pakistan, and AP Intelligence Writer Kimberly Dozier in Washington contributed to this report.