Cross-border shelling from Pak; Afghans furious
Kabul: The recent spate of cross-border shelling from Pakistan has sparked huge public and political anger in Afghanistan, with protesters taking to the streets of the capital, lawmakers demanding explanations from the central government, and a senior border police official submitting his resignation in protest against the rocket strikes.
According to Afghan officials, more than 760 rockets have been fired into the eastern Afghan border provinces of Konar, Nangahar and Khost in the past six weeks, killing at least 60 people and wounding or displacing hundreds more, The Washington Post reports.
Afghan officials, including President Hamid Karzai, have lodged formal objections with the Pakistan Government, but Pakistani officials have denied direct involvement in the attacks, saying they are being carried out by anti-Afghan militias beyond their control, the report said.
“The people carrying the bodies of their loved ones on their backs come to me. I am the responsible person here, but nobody is listening to my voice,” General Aminullah Amarkhel, chief of the national border police in eastern Afghanistan, who offered his resignation in protest, told an Afghan news channel on the telephone.
In downtown Kabul, about 200 demonstrators staged a peaceful rally on Saturday outside the UN representative’s office, chanting, “Down with Pakistan, down with the Pakistani army, down with the ISI,” a reference to Pakistan’s premier spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence.
“The government must break its silence on these attacks,” said Najibullah Kabuli, a political activist who organised the rally.
In Parliament, the defence and interior ministers and the director of the intelligence police were summoned to explain the government’s position on the attacks, which have heightened bilateral tensions at a time when Afghanistan is seeking Pakistan’s support for peace talks with Taliban insurgents and the Obama administration is set to begin a gradual troops withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Interior Minister Bismillah Mohammadi told legislators that in several recent meetings, Afghan officials had shown Pakistani officials shrapnel, shell casings and ammunition as evidence of the attacks, but that “each time they shamelessly deny it.”
He said he had also told the Pakistanis: “You want to hide something as big as the sun with two fingers.”
Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak admitted that diplomatic efforts had failed to stop the cross-border attacks.
“This violation… has hurt the feeling of every son of this nation and necessitates an urgent reaction,” Wardak said.
He urged the lawmakers to deliberate carefully, but added that if he is ordered to respond militarily, “we will not spare our lives or whatever we have.”
Wardak speculated that the rocket attacks were in response to US drone strikes on militant targets in Pakistan’s tribal border region, and also suggested that they could be a test of NATO forces’ resolve and capabilities as they begin to withdraw from Afghanistan later this month.