KABUL/KARACHI: Afghanistan has put its troops near the border with Pakistan on high alert following claims that 15 Afghan civilians died in a cross-border artillery attack. The artillery shelling followed clashes between Pakistani and Afghan security forces at the closed Chaman-Spin Boldak crossing, Afghanistan officials said.
Crowds had gathered on both sides of the border and were waiting to cross for the Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha when fighting broke out.
Eyewitnesses, officials and activists said hundreds of people tried to force their way across the border, leading to clashes between Pakistani forces and protesters, as well as between Pakistani and Afghan security forces.
Afghanistan said 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.
Kandahar Gov. Hayatullah Hayat said that a Pakistani artillery attack on the border town of Spin Boldak left 15 people, including one child, dead and 80 wounded.
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 to reciprocate in case of continued rocketing of Afghan soil by the Pakistani military,” the Afghan defense ministry said.
Afghan officials did not say if there were any fatalities among local or Pakistani forces, and the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul was not available for comment.
Zaka Durrani, an assistant commissioner in Chaman, Pakistan, confirmed the exchange of fire between the two countries, which he said had now stopped.
“There is no damage on the Pakistani side of the border,” Durrani said.
Pakistan’s foreign office and military did not respond to requests for comment, but Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told reporters the issue had been taken up with Afghan authorities and he hoped it would be resolved amicably.
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, which falls on Friday in Afghanistan and Saturday in Pakistan.
When it failed to open, a large crowd gathered to protest, and a quarantine center and a Pakistan government facility at the crossing were burned down.
At least three people were killed and 13 injured in ensuing clashes between Pakistani forces and members of the minority Pashtun community demanding they be allowed to use the crossing.
Durrani said the clashes erupted after protesters attacked offices of the National Database and Registration Authority and set a coronavirus quarantine center on fire. Protesters say they were attacked by troops first.
Farhatullah Babar, a Pakistani activist and politician associated with the opposition Pakistan People’s Party, said the incident must be investigated.
“Demand judicial probe and bring perpetrators to justice,” Babar tweeted.
Durrani said a government committee, headed by home minister Mir Zia Ullah Langove, will meet with protesters and urge them to end the rally.
Local journalist Asghar Achakzai said three protesters were hurt in a brief clash between security forces and protesters on Friday morning, but officials could not confirm this.
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