Sunday, July 3, 2011

Deadly Shelling by Pakistan Into Afghanistan Is Stoking Tensions

Jawad Jalali/European Pressphoto Agency
Afghans in Kabul on Saturday staged a protest against cross-border rocket attacks by Pakistan that have killed 42 people.
KABUL, Afghanistan — Rocket and artillery shells fired from Pakistan have killed 42 Afghans and wounded 48 in three provinces of eastern Afghanistan over the last five weeks, according to local Afghan security officials and tribal elders who have strongly protested the assaults over the last several days and demanded that the Afghan government protect them.

angered Afghan politicians and Western diplomats here who have said privately that they hope the attacks will stop before villagers in the attacked areas take up arms themselves. It is not clear who is responsible for the attacks, which are taking place in remote border areas where the boundary between the two countries is imprecise and where insurgents move back and forth easily.

Pakistan’s military has acknowledged its forces have sometimes shelled suspected militants fleeing into Afghanistan, but not on the scale and intensity alleged by Afghanistan.
“We are seriously concerned about Pakistan’s ongoing shelling of Afghan villages and causing harm to Afghan civilians and Afghan properties,” said Janan Mosazai, the spokesman for Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry. “We call for an immediate and full cessation of this shelling.”
The Afghan Foreign Ministry has met twice with Pakistan’s ambassador here over the shelling. Three high-level meetings also have been held, including one in which President Hamid Karzai spoke directly to President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan when both men were in Tehran for a conference, and another attended by the head of the Pakistani Army. The shelling has not stopped.
“It is obviously a serious situation,” Simon Gass, the NATO senior civilian representative, said in an interview on Sunday. “The border there is disputed; there has been a strong reaction in Afghanistan,” he said, adding that a diplomatic solution was needed.
The long, wild and mountainous region that runs from Nuristan through Kunar to Nangarhar is patrolled almost exclusively by the Afghan border police. NATO has little or no presence there and a spokesman said NATO was unsure what has precipitated the shooting.
The most recent attack was on July 1 when a Pakistani helicopter flew into Afghan territory and bombed a house, said Gen. Aminullah Amerkhail, the chief of the Afghan border police for the eastern part of the country.
“Seven hundred families have been displaced, 42 people have been killed, including some women and children, and 48 villagers have been injured,” in Nangarhar, Kunar and Nuristan, General Amerkhail said.
“We have recognized these rounds,” he said, referring to the shell fragments found in the attacked areas. “They are the Pakistani rounds.”
Members of Parliament, upset that the government and particularly the president had not spoken out more critically, summoned the ministers of defense, interior and the intelligence service on Saturday and asked them for a briefing. “Their explanations were not acceptable at all,” said Mohammed Naiem Hamidzai Lalai, chairman of the Internal Security Committee. “The president is not taking a serious position against the shelling by Pakistanis.”
Mr. Lalai added: “We don’t exactly know what the Pakistani government’s intentions are from the shelling, but most probably they have some bad intentions for our country.”
General Amerkhail and several dozen tribal elders gathered in Jalalabad, the largest city in eastern Afghanistan, on Saturday to press the Afghan government to take a strong stand against the attacks. He offered his resignation, but it was not accepted.
“We all gathered to ask the government to stop the bombings and attacks by Pakistani forces,” said Malik Darwish Lalpoorwal, a tribal elder from Lalpoor district in Nangarhar Province, one of the three provinces where the Pakistanis have shot over the border. “Why should our people die without any reason? They have made many women into widows and many children into orphans. Please stop it.” He threatened, along with the other elders, “to fight them with our bare hands.”
In the Pakistani media, the army has indicated that its forces shot into Afghanistan in the process of pursuing Pakistani Taliban fighters who had fled into Afghanistan. Afghan security officials say that is unlikely, in part because the Pakistanis have not launched a major offensive against the Taliban in those provinces recently. The Afghan officials also say such an explanation does not justify the launching of scores of rockets.
“One or 2 or 10 rounds, yes, that could be if they were chasing the Taliban,” General Amerkhail said. “But how come 800 rounds? So it seems they are intentionally targeting our innocent people.”

Sangar Rahimi and Sharifullah Sahak contributed reporting from Kabul, and a New York Times employee from Jalalabad, Afghanistan

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