KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – Some of the most intense border conflicts between Pakistan and Afghanistan in recent years have left at least 15 civilians dead on the Afghan side on Thursday, officials said.
Afghanistan accuses Pakistani forces of firing heavy artillery in civilian areas following protests by communities on both sides calling for the reopening of a nearby border crossing that Pakistan has closed in an attempt to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Hayatullah Hayat, the governor of Kandahar Province, where the fighting took place, said the worst Pakistani artillery barracks started at around 7 pm and hit the Spin Boldak area. In addition to the deaths, at least 80 other civilians were injured, he said. Afghan security officials said they retaliated with the rockets. Social media videos apparently filmed by the Pakistanis side showed the dark sky lit by intense crossfire.
A delegation from the Pakistani local government in Balochistan Province had arrived at the border to assess the situation, officials in Pakistan said.
General Yasin Zia, the head of the Afghan army, has ordered that the three army corps stationed at the border areas be “fully prepared to retaliate against the Pakistani military in nature “and put the special forces and the air force in his country on the highest” warning, said the Afghan Ministry of Defense in a statement. The ministry estimated the number of dead for nine, including a child.
Movements across the porous border have been restricted by Pakistanis in recent months due to concerns over the pandemic, which has hit both countries. The restrictions particularly affected communities on both sides of the Chaman crossing, people who rely on easy border trade, whether as workers or smugglers, to survive.
For several weeks, protesters staged a sit-in on the Pakistani side of the crossing at Chaman demanding a resumption of normal flow. In June, Pakistan reopened to commercial trucks, but the crossing remained closed to travelers and workers. The border was opened to stuck travelers on both sides on Wednesday, but the protest to allow routine sharing of workers had continued.
The situation escalated on the Pakistani side on Thursday, with reports of Pakistani forces opening fire on protesters during clashes and killing at least two people. Protesters torched a Covid-19 quarantine facility. When thousands of travelers stuck on the Afghan side rushed to the crossroads in chaos, they were greeted by Pakistani fire that also hit Afghan border police facilities. Witnesses said the situation erupted into full-on conflicts that intensified late into the night.
Adeel Ahmad, a provincial official in Balochistan, said Pakistani security forces denied targeting civilians and only fired shots into the air to disperse protesters and maintain order.
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“Daily wage workers, especially those working on both sides of the border, are the hottest and have called on the government to lift restrictions on movement and economic activity. , “Mr Ahmed said. “Locals say we can tolerate hunger and unemployment more and want a solution to the current impasse. Locals are also resisting government plans to introduce a passport and biometric systems for cross-border movement. “
Afghan officials and residents of Spin Boldak District said a heavy artillery fire by Pakistanis forced hundreds of families to flee their homes from the border villages last night.
Fighting at the southern border came just a week after Afghan officials said Pakistani forces fired dozens of mortar shells at Sarkano District in eastern Kunar Province, killing eight. civilians.
The two countries cross a long border, about 1,500 miles, that which was drawn by the British in the 19th century and left the Pashtun ethnic tribes divided. Consecutive Afghan governments have questioned the legitimacy of the division, known as the Durand Line, as an official border. Efforts by the Pakistani government to build reinforced fences and border security checkpoints have angered Afghan officials and communities in the area.
Taimoor Shah reported from Kandahar and Mujib Mashal from Kabul, Afghanistan. Reporting was contributed by Salman Masood in Islamabad, Pakistan, and Fahim Abed in Kabul, Afghanistan.