Islamabad, Kabul agree to border demarcation after clashes leave 50 Afghan soldiers dead

Irshad Salim (MAMOSA Report) — Clashes on the Afghan-Pakistan borders which continued for the past three days, with both countries claiming they inflicted heavy losses on the other side, led on Sunday to a flag meeting at the Chaman border in which the two sides agreed to deploy Geological experts who will use Google’s and geological maps to survey Killi Luqman and Killi Jahangir villages.

According to officials, nearly 10,000 locals have left their houses so far from the two villages and adjoining areas.

The two sides, according to local broadcaster Geo TV, agreed to conduct a geological survey to identify the exact location of the two disputed bordering villages which Afghanistan claims in full.

The Luqman and Nazar villages lie between Kandahar’s Spin Boldak and Pakistan’s Chaman districts, where the conflict erupted on Friday when the Pakistani forces wished to conduct a population census.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share 20 crossing points. The most commonly used ones are Torkham and Chaman.

“There are over 20 unofficial crossings along the Afghan-Pakistani border which militants use to move between the two countries,” Wahid Muzhdah, a Kabul-based analyst on the Taliban and a former member of the group, told DW.

While border clashes between the two countries are not a new occurrence, experts say this time the situation is more “warlike.”

On Sunday Pakistan said its forces killed at least 50 Afghan troops and destroyed five checkpoints in clashes along the border two days earlier.

Lt. Gen, Aamir Riaz, commander of Pakistan Army’s southern command, told reporters in Chaman –bordering southern Kandahar province of Afghanistan– that Afghan forces had targeted the civilian population, whereas Pakistan army in retaliation, hit the security forces only.

“The government was trying to mend the situation, however the Chaman crossing will remain closed till further orders unless Kabul changes its attitude,” Lt. Gen. Riaz added.

Earlier, Major Gen. Nadeem Anjum, head of the paramilitary border force -Frontier Corps- said Pakistan was not happy over the losses of Afghan security forces as “They are our Muslim brothers”.

The two armies traded fire Friday around the Chaman border crossing, which has been closed by Pakistan, stranding people on both sides. The clashes, which ended after a few hours when local commanders contacted each other via an emergency hotline, marked a dangerous escalation between the two U.S. allies.

The two uneasy neighbors share a porous 2,200-kilometer (1,375-mile) border and have long traded allegations of supporting militant groups.

Pakistani officials said the fighting began after Afghan security forces fired on Pakistani census workers and the troops escorting them, killing nine civilians and wounding 42, including women and children. They say the Afghan government had been notified and given the coordinates of the border villages, where the census workers were going door to door.

Afghan officials said Pakistani troops fired the first shots.

Afghanistan refuses to recognize the international border, which follows the so-called Durand Line, established more than a century ago when the British Empire controlled much of South Asia. The line runs through the traditional homeland of the Pashtun ethnic group, which dominates Afghanistan and is a minority in Pakistan.

Afghanistan refuses to allow Pakistan to set up additional border posts, even though the frontier area is used by the Taliban and other Islamic militant groups. Each country says the other turns a blind eye to militant sanctuaries.

Meanwhile, the Meshrano Jirga (upper house) of the parliament on Sunday called upon the Kabul government to consult the U.N. against Pakistan’s alleged provocations and shelling.

Already tense ties between the two neighbors have hit a low ebb in recent months following the terrorist attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan for which the two sides blame each other.

On Feb. 17, Pakistan unilaterally closed its border with Afghanistan, commonly known as the Durand Line, “due to security reasons” following a spate of terror attacks, including a suicide bombing at a Sufi shrine in southern Pakistani town of Sehwan that left 90 people dead. The border was reopened in March.

A number of high-ranking Pakistani officials have visited Kabul in the past few weeks to allay the Afghan government’s concerns, but the visits have not yielded positive results. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani reportedly turned down a recent Pakistani invitation to visit Islamabad.

Experts say the main reason behind an increasing hostility between the two countries is Kabul’s growing ties with Pakistan’s archrival India. In the past few years, Afghanistan has drifted closer to India, whereas Pakistan is seeking to forge closer ties with China and Russia to counter New Delhi’s growing influence in Kabul.

Beneficial for jihadis

Against this backdrop, analysts say the latest clashes and border closing will not provide solutions to the issues the neighboring countries have with one another; rather, they will only embolden extremists in the area.

“Security incidents in Pakistan have increased in recent months. If clashes between the two countries continue, extremists on both sides of the border will only get stronger and pose an even greater threat to the region,” said Pakistani journalist Shahid Shamim to DW.

He believes the only way out of the current problem is for the countries to pursue diplomacy and work together to ensure the safety of the local residents.

Barring a breakthrough between Kabul and Islamabad over their many contentious issues, the situation remains ripe for another deadly border clash.

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