ISLAMABAD — Pakistan on Wednesday criticized as an “overreaction” Afghanistan’s decision to cancel a military trip over alleged cross-border shelling by Pakistani troops. Officials have also dismissed Kabul’s allegations that Islamabad is not helping in efforts aimed at advancing the Afghan peace process. The renewed bilateral tensions come as foreign forces prepare to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
A team of 11 officers of the Afghan National Army was due to travel to the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta to participate in a simulated joint military exercise there. But Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry announced Wednesday it is canceling the visit because of what it called “unacceptable artillery shelling” from across the Pakistani border early this week against the Afghan province of Kunar.
Speaking to VOA, Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry says Islamabad did not approve of the Afghan decision to cancel the trip. He says such interactions help “build bilateral confidence and contribute” toward regional peace efforts.
“It appears that this is an overreaction to a local incident," said Chaudhry. "The report that I have is that there was some intrusion from the Afghan side to which our [military] authorities responded. I might add that our troops are highly disciplined and responsible.”
Authorities in Islamabad have repeatedly alleged in recent months that fugitive Pakistani militants have taken refuge in border regions of Afghanistan, and are using those regions to launch deadly cross-border raids on military as well as civilian targets inside Pakistan.
Kabul’s move to cancel the military trip comes as both countries are already engaged in angry diplomatic exchanges, accusing each other of obstructing the nascent peace process in Afghanistan, which is supposed to facilitate an orderly withdrawal of NATO forces by the end of next year.
Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin reportedly stated on Wednesday that “the depth of Pakistan’s complacency” [lack of interest] in the Afghan peace process has “shocked” and “disappointed” his country.
The criticism apparently came in response to recently reported comments by unnamed Pakistani Foreign Ministry officials, who reportedly described Afghan President Hamid Karzai as the biggest obstacle to political reconciliation process in Afghanistan.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Chaudhry rejected those reports as incorrect and baseless, saying President Karzai is held in high esteem in Pakistan.
“Pakistan government is sincere and is serious in advancing the peace process in Afghanistan and in facilitating peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan," he said. "We think, we are in fact convinced, that a peaceful, stable, prosperous Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s interest, is in the interest of the region. We have taken every possible step to facilitate that. We do hope that this cooperation will continue in the largest interest of peace in Afghanistan.”
The Afghan peace process is primarily meant to persuade Taliban and other insurgent groups fighting NATO forces to engage in talks with negotiators of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council to bring an end to the conflict before the withdrawal of international forces from the country. Pakistan’s assistance in the peace process is seen as essential because it shares a long porous border with Afghanistan and traditionally has close ties to Afghan insurgents.
Last year, Afghan peace negotiators were able to secure the release of some senior Taliban leaders being held in Pakistani prisons, hoping the men would be able to persuade insurgents in their home areas to suspend fighting. But since then, bilateral relations have taken a sharp turn for the worse.