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Pakistan, Afghan Forces Exchange Fire Along Disputed Border


Pakistani-Afghan relations have taken a dramatic turn for the worse after the countries' forces exchanged fire along a remote stretch of their ill-defined border. From Islamabad, VOA's Benjamin Sand reports the firefight was sparked by a controversy over Pakistani plans to fence off the border area.

The clash occurred Thursday along the remote border separating Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal agency from Afghanistan's Paktika province.

Neither side is reporting any casualties.

On Friday, Pakistani officials accused Afghan troops of starting the firefight without provocation.

The Pakistani foreign ministry spokeswoman, Tasnim Aslam, says Pakistani troops were surveying the area for the proposed fence. The fence is meant to help prevent Taleban insurgents from crossing the porous border into Afghanistan.

"They were identifying the area and they were fired upon, which is unacceptable," said Aslam. "They were well within Pakistani territory. Our troops are exercising extreme restraint; they could have easily hit them, but they have not."

Aslam says Afghan officials have apologized for the incident.

"They have apologized and they have said it would not happen again," she said. "We will see. If they do not show commitment to this understanding, than we will retaliate."

Afghan officials, however, are presenting a starkly different version of events.

On Thursday, the Afghan defense ministry said Pakistani forces fired the first shots, and were targeting Afghan troops who were removing a fence the Pakistanis had already erected.

The ministry says Afghan troops reached the disputed area Tuesday and dismantled a small section of the controversial fence.

It says Pakistani forces rebuilt the fence overnight Wednesday, and then fired on Afghan soldiers when they returned Thursday morning.

The clash is the latest escalation in a growing war of words between the two nominal allies.

Afghan officials say Taleban insurgents have established a series of bases inside Pakistan, and routinely cross the border to attack Afghan and international forces. They have demanded that Islamabad halt the incursions.

Pakistan denies that the Taleban has any major bases on its territory. But it does concede that there have been some cross-border raids, and recently announced plans to fence portions of the 2,400-kilometer border.

Despite its call for border security, Afghanistan is opposed to the fence. Officials say it would unfairly divide tribal communities that live on both sides of the border.

Perhaps more importantly, Kabul also disputes the border itself, which was established by the British in 1893.