Unprovoked firing on Pakistan’s census team by Afghanistan

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At least nine people were killed and over 40 others injured as Afghan border forces opened fire on security personnel guarding a census team in Balochistan’s Chaman area early Friday, although Islamabad had informed Kabul in advance of the exercise.

Chaman Civil Hospital Medical Superintendent Dr Akhtar told DawnNews that five children and three women were among those killed, whereas police confirmed that four Frontier Corps personnel are among the injured. Dr Akhtar added that over 40 people had been injured, with five critically wounded victims sent to Quetta for medical treatment.

Pakistani relatives push a stretcher carrying the body of a victim at a hospital following cross border firing in the border town of Chaman. ─ AFP
Pakistani relatives push a stretcher carrying the body of a victim at a hospital following cross border firing in the border town of Chaman. ─ AFP

Following the incident, Chaman city was shut down, with shopkeepers shuttering their shops and residents evacuating their homes in Killi Luqman, Killi Jahangir and Badshah Adda Kahol, Killa Abdullah District Police Officer (DPO) Sajid Mohmand said.

Security has been ramped up in Quetta and other parts of Balochistan following the cross-border attack, and additional contingents of the Army and FC have been dispatched to the Pak-Afghan border in Chaman, DawnNews reported.

Samim Khpalwak, spokesman for the governor of Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, in a statement to AFP said that one Afghan civilian and three border police forces were wounded in the exchange of fire.

He added that the scuffle was ongoing, with “dozens” of Afghan security forces rushing to the scene.

‘Afghanistan was informed of census’

Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) had earlier released a statement saying the Afghan Border Police opened fire on FC personnel detailed for the security of a census team in Chaman.

ISPR said the Afghan border guards’ opened fire despite the fact that Afghan authorities had been informed in advance about the census exercise in Pakistan and coordination was carried out through diplomatic and military channels.

“Since April 30, Afghan Border Police had been creating hurdles in [the] conduct of census in divided villages of Killi Luqman and Killi Jahangir in Chaman area, on Pakistani side of the border,” the military’s media wing said.

Foreign Office spokesperson Nafees Zakaria during a weekly briefing in Islamabad also confirmed that Afghan authorities had been informed about the on-going census exercise.

Zakaria said that the census team “was fulfilling its duties in the area and the exercise was taking place within the jurisdiction of Pakistan.”

The Kandahar governor’s spokesman, Khpalwak, however, claimed that Pakistani officials had strayed on to the Afghan side of the border and were attempting to count people living there.

The FO added that Pakistan the right to retaliate after the exchange of fire, but said that Pakistan’s efforts for peace in Afghanistan would continue.

“Dialogue is the only political means available to us to establish peace in Afghanistan,” Zakaria said.

Border crossing sealed

The Chaman border crossing was sealed as Pakistani and Afghan troops continued to exchange fire, the ISPR said.

Meanwhile, security forces asked the residents of villages affected by the firing to evacuate.

During the cross-border “attack”, mortar shells fired from the Afghan side hit houses in a village of Killi Luqman, leaving one person dead and many others injured, Station House Officer (SHO) Chaman Maqsood said. At least three children are among the injured.

He said the injured were shifted to the Civil Hospital Chaman, where an emergency has been imposed. Four of the injured are said to be in critical condition.

The slain man was identified as 17-year-old Mohammad Ashraf.

“We were sleeping when we suddenly heard firing and blasts,” Haji Ayub, a resident of Killi Jahangir told DawnNews. “We immediately left our houses and came to Chaman bazaar.”

Abdul Mateen, a resident of Killi Luqman said FC personnel were guarding the census staff in his village when the Afghan forces opened fire on them.

“I lost a close relative in the attack,” he said.

Tense relations

Pakistan had closed its borders with Afghanistan at Chaman and Torkham on Feb 18 after a series of terrorist attacks in the country killed over 100 people. Militants having sanctuaries in Afghanistan were blamed for the attacks.

After over a month of closure, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had ordered the reopening of the borders as a goodwill gesture.

The latest violence at Pak-Afghan border has come days after the visits of two high-profile Pakistani delegations to Afghanistan aimed at easing the tensions between the neighbouring states.

Speaking to the media upon his return from Kabul, NA Speaker Ayaz Sadiq had said that the Afghan leadership had “promised” that the Afghan president and the country’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah would visit Pakistan.

Earlier this week, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani declined invitations extended by top civil and military officials to visit Pakistan, saying he would not visit until Islamabad hands over the perpetrators of terror attacks in Afghanistan.

www.dawn.com

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