ISLAMABAD — Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai has called on Taliban insurgents to drop their weapons against the Afghan people and turn them against enemies of the war-ravaged country. The statement is widely seen as directed at neighboring Pakistan and it comes just days after one of the worst border clashes between the two uneasy neighbors.
Construction of a controversial border post along the Durand Line - the two countries' porous, 2,600-kilometer border - is at the center of the latest bilateral tensions.
Kabul alleges that Islamabad is building the installation on Afghan territory in violation of bilateral and international agreements. Pakistan has repeatedly denied those charges.
President Karzai ordered his top officials last month to take all necessary steps to get the border post removed. He did not elaborate, but his directive was soon followed by one of the worst recent border skirmishes between Afghan and Pakistani forces. One Afghan died and two Pakistani soldiers were wounded.
Karzai appeared to refer to the border issue Saturday in a message that did not mention Pakistan directly but appeared to be intended to reach Taliban insurgents.
Instead of "destroying their own country," he said, Taliban fighters should aim their weapons at the source of "hostility" against Afghanistan.
President Karzai said the Taliban should "stand with" the young Afghan soldier who was killed during the border fighting, "and defend their soil."
Pakistani authorities blamed Afghan forces for the firefight on Wednesday, and called in Kabul’s most senior diplomat in Islamabad to deliver a protest to him.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry says Pakistani forces are renovating some installations on their side of the border to enhance security, and he added that Pakistan expects Afghanistan to cooperate in those efforts to avoid any misunderstandings.
"We believe that such incidents vitiate the friendly relations and create avoidable tensions between the two brotherly countries," he said. "The Pakistani post on Gursal [in the Mohmand tribal district] is part of our efforts to have effective border management. We believe that better border management can help interdict cross-border undesirable activity.”
Afghans have been staging street demonstrations against Pakistan and have rallied in support of their national security forces. The latest protest, on Saturday, was in the eastern town of Asadabad, not far from the scene of the shooting this week.
The border tensions come as the United States is seeking Pakistan’s cooperation to help Afghanistan persuade the Taliban to end violence and engage in peace talks with the Karzai government. The peace process is seen as a vital part of the planned orderly withdrawal of most foreign troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year.
The Taliban rose to power in Afghanistan in the 1990s with the help of Pakistan, and Afghan authorities believe Islamabad still supports the Islamists, to maintain its influence in Afghanistan after NATO forces leave. Pakistani leaders deny such allegations and insist they want peace and stability in Afghanistan.