‘Not in keeping with brotherly ties’: FO condemns ‘unprovoked’ shelling by Afghan forces in Chaman

At least seven people lost their lives and 16 others suffered injuries on Sunday in Chaman, which came under heavy gunfire and artillery shelling by Afghan border forces, the military’s media wing said.

Pakistani troops retaliated against the “unprovoked and indiscriminate” fire, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement, without giving details of any losses on the other side.

The ISPR described the incident as “uncalled-for aggression” and said Pakistani troops had given a “befitting” but “measured response” and avoided targeting civilians on the other side.

It said Pakistani authorities had approached their counterparts in Kabul to highlight the “severity” of the situation, demanding strict action to prevent a repeat of such incidents.

The Foreign Office condemned the shelling, saying “such unfortunate incidents are not in keeping with the brotherly ties between the two countries”.

“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. The FO said authorities in both countries remained in contact to ensure there was no escalation of the situation.

The busy Afghan border crossing at Chaman, used for trade and transit, was closed for a few hours before reopening, officials said. The crossing was closed for several days last month after similar violence.

Officials said the exchange of fire took place between Pakistani and Afghan troops when some people from the other 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.

A little later, Afghan forces started firing between Shoukat and Ilyas Pakistani border posts, prom­pting a response from Pakistani troops, officials said, adding that Afghan troops then started using artillery and mortar shells, targeting civilian settlements.

Some mortar shells landed on a road leading to the border area and the Nato market.

In Afghanistan, however, 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.

Incident ‘accidental’

Videos received from Chaman city showed a cloud of dust after a shell fell on the border road near the city, according to the BBC Urdu service.

A person could be heard saying the mortar had just landed. In another video, a person named Ghousullah was saying that five shells had landed. He said one of them fell on the hotel in which three people were killed. One shell fell on the shop in which people must have been injured while two shells fell in the garden.

Zahid Saleem, additional chief secretary for Balochistan’s home and tribal affairs, told Dawn that an emergency had been declared in Chaman and Quetta hospitals.

Dr Rasheed Tareen, deputy medical superintendent at the Chaman district hospital, told Dawn the hospital had received six bodies that received splinters of mortars and artillery shells. Of the injured, seven were in critical condition, he said, adding: “We are referring the critically wounded to Quetta.”

As for casualties on the Afghan side, the ISPR statement was silent, and so was Afghan official Noor Ahmad, who spoke to Reuters from Kandahar, the province on the Afghan side of the border.

Mr Ahmad said the incident was “accidental” and the situation had returned to normal after the two sides had a meeting.

However, Mr Zaid, the Kandahar governor’s spokesman, 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.

Officials condemn attack

Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Qudoos Bizenjo expressed concern over the incident. “I hope the federal government will ensure an immediate and effective solution to this problem at the diplomatic level.”

He ordered the district administration of Chaman to provide full support to the people affected.

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah condemned the attack and requested the Balochistan government to provide full support and assistance to the affected citizens.

“Details are being collected regarding the tragic incident that took place on the Pak-Afghan Chaman border,” he said on Twitter, adding that news about the deaths of Pakistani citizens was “extremely painful and saddening”.

Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique said the “unprovoked shelling” was a “shameful act”.

“Pakistani forces took the best action by not targeting the Afghan civilian population as part of retaliatory action,” he tweeted. “The Afghan government should bring the reasons for the attack forward and bring those responsible for the tragedy to justice.”

PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari also condemned the attack and regretted the loss of lives. “The peaceful policy of the Pakistan Army in the region should not be considered a weakness,” he warned.

Former information minister Fawad Chaudhry said the PTI had been drawing attention to the “deterioration of relations with Afghanistan” for several months, adding that the incident was only further evidence about that.

Condemning the incident, he questioned who was responsible for the state of relations with Afghanistan and the rise in terrorism.

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