TORKHAM / ISLAMABAD: Guns fell silent on the Pak-Afghan border in Khyber Agency on Wednesday after three days of skirmishes between border guards of the two countries that left one Pakistani military officer dead and 19 others, mostly civilians, injured.
The fighting erupted along the Torkham border Sunday night and continued sporadically over the next three days, apparently after Afghan forces resorted to ‘unprovoked firing’ to disrupt the construction of a gate at the busy border crossing between the two militancy-plagued neighbours.
Pakistan and Afghanistan have agreed to de-escalate tensions on their border, said the Afghan ambassador in Islamabad on Wednesday after he was summoned to the Foreign Office over the death of Major Ali Jawad Changezi of the Frontier Corps in the Afghan firing.
In a Facebook post, Dr Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal said he had had ‘productive meetings’ with the Pakistani leadership on the Torkham issue. “Agreed on ceasefire, de-escalation of tension, drawdown of military buildup and steps forward for an amicable solution,” he added.
There was no official reaction to Zakhilwal’s claim from Pakistan. The Foreign Office said in a statement that Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry summoned the Afghan envoy over the death of Major Changezi.
A senior Foreign Office official objected to the use of word ‘ceasefire’ by Ambassador Zakhilwal insisting the two sides were not at war with each other. “There are tensions on the Torkham border and both sides are in contact to defuse the situation,” the official told The Express Tribunerequesting not to be identified by name.
Foreign Secretary Chaudhry urged the Afghan government to take immediate steps to put an end to ‘unprovoked’ firing. He stressed that Pakistani authorities were undertaking construction works on their side of the border to regulate the movement of people as well as vehicles with a prior agreement of the Afghan government.
He expressed concern over continued firing by the Afghan security forces for the past few days with a view to disrupting the construction works aimed at strengthening effective border management.
The foreign secretary rejected Afghan allegations that the construction works were in violation of the agreements and understandings reached between the two countries. “These works are being undertaken on the Pakistani side and were started after the two sides had agreed on them during the meetings held last month,” he added.
Underscoring the importance of border management for strengthening mutual security and checking infiltration of terrorists and militants, Foreign Secretary Chaudhry emphasised the need for resolving the issue through constructive engagement.
Meanwhile, border guards on both sides of the Durand Line hoisted white flag, a symbol of truce, at the Torkham border without formally declaring a ceasefire. Subsequently, Pakistani authorities resumed work on the construction of the border gate as part of the comprehensive border management plan.
A weekly flag meeting between senior officials of the two countries could not take place due to hostilities. Officials from both sides discuss border issues in a flag meeting which is held every Wednesday.
Earlier, Afghan forces again opened ‘unprovoked firing’ Wednesday morning when Pakistani authorities resumed construction of the Torkham border gate, local tribal sources told The Express Tribune. Two Pakistani border guards were wounded in the fresh firing.
Sources in Afghanistan said that six Afghan servicemen have been killed and over two dozen wounded in border clashes with Pakistani troops since Sunday. Tensions escalated on Tuesday amid reports that Pakistan Army had sent reinforcements and heavy weaponry to the Torkham border. There was similar troop buildup on the Afghan side of the border.
Though tensions have seemingly de-escalated, Torkham town remains under curfew which was clamped on Monday. Most of local Shinwari tribesmen have already abandoned their houses and shifted to their relatives in the neighbouring Landikotal town. However, thousands of Pakistani and Afghan nationals have been stranded on both sides of the border since hostilities began between the two countries.