KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) – Pakistan warned Afghanistan on Tuesday that it would not be responsible for the consequences if a border spat between the two countries escalated further, even as hundreds of Afghans rallied in a southern city to protest the latest incidents along their country’s frontier.
The Pakistani warning came one day after Afghanistan lodged a similar protest with Islamabad, blaming its neighbor for a spate of shootouts near the boundary.
Afghanistan had claimed Monday that its forces were fired on in the Goshta district of Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province, the same place where a firefight between Afghan and Pakistani forces left an Afghan border policeman dead and two Pakistani soldiers wounded last week.
Relations between the two neighbors have been severely strained in recent months, and the mountainous region in eastern Afghanistan where the shootings occurred has seen acrimonious exchanges between the two sides over the demarcation of their border.
The Pakistani protest, made to Afghanistan’s charge d’affairs in Islamabad, described Monday’s incident as an “unprovoked fire incident” that resulted in the wounding of five Pakistani soldiers.
A Pakistani statement said the Afghan diplomat was told that “in case of any further escalation as a result of this situation, the responsibility would be on the Afghan government.”
It added that in Monday’s incident “Pakistan security forces exercised maximum restraint.”
“Pakistan feels that repetition of unprovoked firing incidents are adversely affecting the friendly relations between the two brotherly countries which have covered a long distance in building trust and understanding in the recent years,” the statement said.
Although Afghanistan’s national security forces have swelled to nearly 352,000 in recent years, their size is tiny compared to a Pakistani military that is one of the 10 biggest in the world.
Earlier, hundreds of men marched through downtown Kandahar chanting “Death to Pakistan” and “Death to the ISI,” a reference to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, the country’s spy agency.
The demonstrators, who dispersed peacefully after the march, were protesting the two shooting incidents along the frontier.
In the first incident last week, a border gate built by Pakistan was damaged in the fighting. Afghan officials say the second exchange started Monday when Afghan border police told Pakistani forces to stop repairing the gate, sparking a firefight that ended two hours later with a cease-fire.
Pakistan claims the facility is on its territory. But Afghanistan does not recognize the disputed Durand Line, the 19th century demarcation between present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan as its border. Pakistan accepts the line as the boundary between the two sides.
Insurgencies in both nations have also contributed to deteriorating relations.
Both countries have accused each other of providing shelter for militants fighting on the other side of the border, and Afghan officials have claimed Pakistan has tried to torpedo peace talks with the Taliban.
In domestic violence, insurgents placed a bomb on a police vehicle in the Khan Abad district of eastern Kunar province, killing two police officers and wounding five _ including two civilians. District chief Hayatullha Amiri said the bomb was attached to the police pickup truck using a magnet.
Amir Shah and Patrick Quinn contributed from Kabul.
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