The native Pashtuns held protests against Pakistan in the Helmand and Kandahar provinces of Afghanistan in the wake of the recent cross-border skirmish that left 15 Afghan civilians dead and wounded manifolds more.
According to the details, thousands of protesters in both provinces took to the streets against the Chaman-Spin Boldak border clash with the Pakistani forces. The protesters raised slogans against Pakistan and the pro-Pakistan factions of the Taliban who they dubbed as “Punjabi Taliban.”
The protesters accused the Pakistani forces of firing heavy artillery on the adjacent civilian areas when the Pashtun community on both sides were demanding the reopening of the border that had been closed in the early days of the Covid-19. The Afghans reportedly wanted to spend Eid-ul-Adha with their relatives in Chaman, and the local Pashtuns wanted to cross the border for similar reasons.
Muhammad Arif Noorzai, an Afghan lawmaker from Kandahar, said that the cross-border clash precipitated when the Pakistani forces opened indiscriminate fire on the peaceful Afghan protesters on the border. “The first bullet was fired by Pakistanis”, he said.
Noorzai said that the Afghan border security forces retaliated only when they saw that the civilians were harmed. “Pakistanis targeted civilians and Afghan forces alike.”
The cross-border skirmish occurred on Thursday, July 31st, the day before Eid-ul-Adha, on the Chaman Friendship Gate along the Durand line. Thousands of protesters gathered and organized a sit-in in front of the border, demanding its reopening. The border was opened earlier that week, but it was closed allegedly due to “security concerns” by the Pakistani border security forces. This closure prompted the sit-in that eventually morphed into a violent clash.
The Afghan officials accused the Pakistani forces of opening fire on protesters on both sides of the border. Hayatullah Hayat, the Governor of Kandahar, where the clash occurred on the Afghanistan side, told the media that the worst volley of Pakistani artillery struck the town of Spin Baldok around 7 p.m. on Thursday. In addition to the 15 deaths, at least 80 other civilians were critically wounded. When the Afghan protesters approached the border in chaos; they were met with the Pakistani fire, resulting in many deaths and tens of injuries. According to the witnesses, the clash intensified late in the night.
The Afghan forces retaliated by launching missiles on the Pakistani forces. Videos circulating on the social media show the panicked protesters running wildly and the twilight sky lit up by the heavy crossfire.
On Friday morning, the protesters once again stormed the border and vandalized and torched a government-run Covid-19 quarantine facility. Social media photos show some people carrying the facility’s furniture – makeshift beds and water tanks – on bikes.
General Zia Yasin, the Chief of Afghanistan’s Army, ordered the border security forces to remain on “highest alert” and “fully ready to retaliate to the Pakistani military in kind.”
Pakistani officials vehemently denied Afghanistan’s allegations, saying that: “Pakistani Force did not open fire first and responded in self-defence only.” Shibli Faraz, the Pakistani Information Minister, said that some people tried to cross the Chaman border forcibly and gunshots were fired from the Afghan side. He said the protesters also damaged the security forces’ poles.
Zia Langove, the Home Minister of Balochistan, told the media that some “miscreants” capitalized on the chaotic situation on the border to “fan the flames” and provoke a clash. “There was firing, and those miscreants who tried to take advantage of the situation, they also played a role to fan the flames.”
The Pakistani Foreign Office said in a statement that the PTI-led government aims to curb drug smuggling and the illegal movement of people by securing the border. “Pakistan is undertaking concerted efforts to ensure regulated movement of trade between the two countries, which are being challenged by elements opposed to such regulation.”
The Afghan officials, on the other hand, said that the matter would be pursued through relevant diplomatic channels and “required action” will be taken.
The situation along the Durand Line remains tense. According to the ISPR, the media wing of the Pakistani Army, the Pakistani forces suffered casualties from heavy mortar shelling from across the border on Thursday. The shelling reportedly killed a personnel of the Frontier Corps and wounded two others.