KABUL/ KARACHI: Pakistan’s foreign ministry said on Friday that Afghan security forces targeted innocent civilians on its side of the Chaman-Spin Boldak crossing, adding that its forces responded in kind to protect the local population.
In an official handout circulated in Islamabad, the ministry accused the Afghan forces of resorting to “unprovoked” firing, saying that Pakistani troops did not open fire first and only responded in self-defense.
“To deescalate the situation,” said the statement, “the Pakistan side immediately activated both military and diplomatic channels and it was after hectic efforts that the firing was stopped from Afghan side.”
“This unfortunate incident resulted in numerous casualties and deliberate/serious damage to State infrastructure on the Pakistan side,” it added. “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.”
Earlier in the day, the Afghanistan government said it had put its troops on high alert near the border with Pakistan following what it said was the killing of 15 civilians due to artillery shelling by Pakistan after clashes between Pakistani and Afghan security forces at the closed Chaman-Spin Boldak crossing.
Crowds of mostly ethnic Pashtuns had been standing on both sides of the border waiting to cross for the Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha before clashes broke out. Among them were hundreds of traders, protesting the closure of the border crossing due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Eyewitnesses, officials and activists said hundreds of people managed to forcefully cross the border, leading to clashes between Pakistani forces and the protesters, as well as between Pakistani and Afghan security forces.
Afghanistan says 15 civilians were killed in cross-border firing from Pakistan, while Pakistani officials said three people had died in clashes between protesters and Pakistani security forces.
“On Thursday evening, Pakistani military forces carried out artillery attack on some residential areas of Spin Boldak [border town in Afghanistan] in which 15 civilians, including one child were killed and 80 wounded,” Kandahar governor Hayatullah Hayat said in a statement.
Afghan Army Chief Yasin Zia said he had ordered troops “to be fully prepared for similar actions against Pakistani forces.”
“Air force and special units have been put on first degree alert and to reciprocate in case of continuation of rocketing of Afghan soil by Pakistani military,” the Afghan defense ministry said in a statement.
Afghan officials did not say if there were any fatalities among local or Pakistani forces and the Pakistani embassy in Kabul was not immediately available for comment.
Zaka Durrani, an assistant commissioner in Chaman, Pakistan, confirmed the exchange of firing between the two countries, which he said had now stopped.
“There are no damages on Pakistani side of the border,” Durrani said.
The crossing, mostly closed to pedestrians during the coronavirus pandemic, was briefly opened on Wednesday and was meant to open again on Thursday to allow nationals of both countries to cross for Eid.
When it did not open, a large crowd, which included traders, gathered to protest, and a quarantine center and a Pakistan government facility for processing movement at the crossing were burned down.
At least three people were killed and 13 injured in ensuing clashes between Pakistani paramilitary Fortier Corps forces and members of the minority Pashtun community, officials said.
Khan Wasay, a spokesperson for the Frontier Corps, did not respond to repeated calls and messages seeking comment.
Assistant commissioner Durrani said the clashes erupted after protesters attacked the office of the National Database and Registration Authority and set a makeshift coronavirus quarantine center on fire. Protesters on the other hand say they were attacked by troops first.
“Since the CCTV have been broken, we cannot ascertain who opened fire but both FC and protesters are alleging the other did,” Durrani said.
Speaking at a news conference in Quetta on Thursday, the provincial home minister said citizens should not be harmed but denied FC had fired shots.
Farhatullah Babar, a prominent Pakistani activist and politician associated with the opposition Pakistan People Party, said the incident must be investigated.
“Demand judicial probe & bringing perpetrators to justice,” Babar tweeted.
Durrani said the protest on the border and demands for its complete reopening were currently ongoing. A government committee, headed by home minister Mir Zia Ullah Langove, has met with protesters to convince them to end the rally, he added.
Local journalist Asghar Achakzai said three protesters were injured in a brief clash between security forces and protesters on Friday morning but officials did not confirm this.