Afghan govt has apologised for shelling at Chaman border, matter now resolved: Khawaja Asif


Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said on Monday that the interim government in Kabul has apologised to Pakistan for firing by Afghan Border Forces on the civilian population in Balochistan’s Chaman district a day earlier, clarifying that the “matter is now resolved”.

At least seven people lost their lives and 16 others suffered injuries on Sunday in Chaman when it came under “unprovoked and indiscriminate” heavy gunfire and artillery shelling by Afghan border forces, according to the military’s media affairs wing.

The incident has been widely condemned across the political divide in Pakistan.

Addressing the matter in a National Assembly session today, Asif said that the “provocation at Chaman was from the Afghan side”.

“There was a portion of the fence damaged […] our people were repairing it […] they slammed the fence with a jeep […] they took the stand that the reparation work should have been referred in the border security committee.

“When the matter escalated, they opened fire. In the first round of fire, no casualties occurred. But later when they used heavy ammunition […] because of that five of our civilians were martyred and two passed away on the way to Quetta,” he detailed.

In response, Asif said, Pakistan fired on the Afghan post which resulted in casualties of eight to nine Afghan soldiers.

“After that, the border security committee met again and it was agreed that Afghanistan was at fault […] we believe that there was no motive behind this […] there is no evidence of any planning behind the attack.”

The minister revealed that the Afghan authorities had admitted their mistake and promised that such incidents won’t happen in the future.

“But speaker sahab, one thing is clear that the internal situation of Afghanistan is being reflected in its relations with Pakistan,” Asif stressed.

He added that Pakistan was a well-wisher of Afghanistan and wanted the situation there to improve, promising that “we will fully cooperate for Afghan peace”.

PM Shehbaz asks Afghan authorities to ensure such incidents are not repeated

Earlier today, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif strongly condemned the firing in the Chaman district and called on the Afghan government to ensure that such incidents were not repeated in the future.

In a tweet on Monday, the premier said the “unprovoked shelling and fire by Afghan Border Forces at Chaman, resulting in [the] martyrdom of several Pakistani citizens and injuring more than a dozen, is unfortunate and deserves the strongest condemnation”. “The Afghan Interim government should ensure that such incidents are not repeated,” he added.

In a press conference later, the prime minister reiterated his condemnation of the incident and said he was summoning a meeting to review the situation.

He said the government would fully try to sort out matters and demanded that Afghanistan take action to stop such events.

Former ambassador to Afghanistan Mansoor Ahmad Khan also issued a condemnation and stressed the need for measures to prevent such incidents, highlighting that an increase was observed in their occurrence in recent days.

“Condemn yesterday’s Chaman incident killing six Pakistanis and injuring many others from firing/shelling from [the] Afghan side. Unfortunately, such incidents have been continuing/increasing recently,” he tweeted, calling for “direct talks with [the] Afghan government/institutions to prevent [the] recurrence of such incidents, which is in mutual interest”.

“Continuation of such cross-border incidents not only affects relations but [also] impedes [the] enhancing of cooperation in political, trade, transit, economic exchanges and particularly [the] movement of people”, he added. The condemnations by the premier and the ambassador follow the Foreign Office’s (FO) denunciation of the incident, wherein it demanded the “strictest possible action” by Afghan authorities against those responsible.

In a statement issued on Sunday night, the FO said “such unfortunate incidents are not in keeping with the brotherly ties” between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“The Afghan authorities have been informed that recurrence of such incidents must be avoided and strictest possible action must be taken against those responsible,” it said in a statement, adding that both countries remained in contact to ensure there was no escalation of the situation.

The incident

The incident of the cross-border attack was reported on Sunday evening by the ISPR.

Later, unnamed officials told Dawn that an exchange of fire had taken place between Pakistani and Afghan troops on Sunday when some people from the Afghan side tried to cut a fence near the border village of Lala Mohammad, which resulted in the closing of the Friendship Gate at the Chaman border crossing. However, after half an hour, the border was reopened for traffic and pedestrians, they added.

A short while later, the officials said, Afghan forces started firing between Shoukat and Ilyas Pakistani border posts, prom­pting a response from Pakistani troops. Afghan troops then started using artillery and mortar shells, targeting civilian settlements, they added.

According to them, some mortar shells had landed on a road leading to the border area and the Nato market in the area.

BBC Urdu said videos received from Chaman city showed a cloud of dust after a shell fell on the border road near the city. The report said citizens could be heard saying that mortar shells were landing in the area in the videos.

In Afghanistan, a spokesman for Kandahar’s governor, Ataullah Zaid, appeared to link the clashes with the construction of new checkpoints on the Afghan side of the border, the AP news agency reported.

Separately, he told local media in Chaman by phone that one Afghan security man was killed and 13 people were injured, including 10 soldiers and three civilians.

Meanwhile, another Afghan official, Noor Ahmad, who spoke to Reuters from Kandahar, claimed the incident was “accidental” and the situation had returned to normal after the two sides had a meeting.

The busy Afghan border crossing at Chaman, used for trade and transit, was closed for a few hours after the incident, Pakistani officials said.

Last month’s closure

The crossing was also closed for several days last month after similar violence.

The border was closed for after an armed man from the Afghan side opened fire on Pakistani security personnel at Friendship Gate on November 13, resulting in the martyrdom of one soldier and leaving two others wounded.

Official sources said at the time that Pakistani and Afghan forces had exchanged fire for more than an hour following the incident, with reports that five personnel from the Afghan side were killed and 14 others were injured in the gun battle.

The closure of the border soon after the incident had caused the suspension of trade, including the Afghan transit trade, between the two countries.

On November 22, Pakistan had reopened its border with Afghanistan at Chaman after a week. The decision to reopen the border was taken at a meeting between Pakistani border authorities and Taliban officials.

Three days later on Nov 25, the FO had said Pakistan was holding discussions to sort out issues in light of the increase in cross-border attacks from Afghanistan.