QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan fired a barrage of rockets across its southwestern border killing nine people and wounding 50 in an Afghan border town, Afghan officials said Friday.
The exchange of fire that led to casualties in the town of Spinboldak was instigated by Afghan border guards, Pakistan security officials said. It was the latest cross-border exchange between the two countries. Earlier this month, Pakistan fired rockets into Afghanistan’s northeastern Kunar province killing three people.
Cross-border exchanges have increased since Pakistan began raising a fence along its 2,500-kilometer (1,500-mile) border with Afghanistan known as the Durand Line. Pakistan considers the colonial-era division created in 1893 as an international border, while Afghanistan flatly rejects it.
Pakistan began building the fence in 2017 and since then the two sides have routinely exchanged fire. Pakistan says it needs the fence to block militants from crossing. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan accuse the other of harboring their enemies.
Pakistan has been widely accused by Kabul and the U.S. of providing safe haven to Taliban insurgents, while Islamabad says insurgents have found a sanctuary in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar. Those include the Baluchistan Liberation Army, who attacked the Stock Exchange building in southern Karachi on June 29.
Pakistan also says anti-government Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) insurgents are hiding in Afghanistan.
A U.N. report earlier this month said up to 6,500 Pakistani militants, most of them belonging to the TTP, are hiding in Afghanistan, with links to the Islamic State affiliate there and a threat to both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
On Friday, an Afghan Defense Ministry statement said rockets fired by Pakistan pummeled Spinboldak late Thursday. The statement said Afghan security forces retaliated.
Yet two Pakistani security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said Friday the Afghan security forces initiated the attack.
They said the cross-border exchange took place hours after Pakistani troops had been deployed to Chaman in southwestern Baluchistan province on the Pakistan side of the border, opposite Spinboldak.
The troops were deployed to contain hundreds of demonstrators who had gathered Thursday at the Chaman border crossing to protest its continued closure because of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown.
Hundreds of ethnic Pashtuns living in Pakistan work in Afghanistan and many Afghans in Pakistan. Three people were killed when troops opened fire on the unruly crowd Thursday.
Pakistan has opened the border to trade but it is still closed to daily wage earners, who work on one side of the border and live on the other, in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.
As the rally deteriorated and the military opened fire, Afghan security guards from across the border began firing, said the Pakistani security officials. Pakistan retaliated.
Akhgar reported from Kabul, Afghanistan