Deadly rocket attacks straining Afghanistan-Pakistan relations
By HEATH DRUZIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 23, 2012
KABUL — A rain of rockets from Pakistan threatens to spawn a diplomatic and humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s deputy foreign minister summoned Pakistan’s ambassador Sunday after shelling killed four civilians and injured several others in Kunar province Friday night.
A provincial official is warning of an “uprising” if the attacks continue. The Foreign Ministry warned that continued shelling “could have significant negative impact” on relations between the two countries.
The rocket attacks are not new — villagers say there have been attacks on and off for two years. But they have become more frequent in recent months. Villagers and a provincial government official, reached by telephone, reported that hundreds, if not thousands, have fled the violence.
“Our life turned into a nightmare out there because of the shelling,” said Gul Ahmad, a farmer who recently fled the village of Tagha Saparai in Kunar province. “We could not go out of our houses to do our farming and our crops dried out,” he said by telephone.
Mohammed Munir, who lives in a neighboring village, said members of the Pakistani Taliban hiding out on the Afghan side of the border crossed into Pakistan and killed several soldiers at a checkpoint right before the most recent shelling started about a week ago. His account could not be independently verified.
Since then, Munir said, the Pakistani military has shot rockets into Afghan villages daily, and villagers too poor to flee have dug caves as makeshift bunkers. Munir blamed the Pakistani military, which maintains outposts just across the border, for the rocket attacks.
Pakistan has denied allegations that it is behind or condones cross-border attacks.
“The work has stopped, the farming has stopped, food is expensive and daily life is affected,” Munir said.
In the past three months, 1,300 rockets have landed in Kunar province alone, killing eight people, wounding 22, destroying houses and forcing hundreds of families to flee their villages, said Wasifullah Wasifi, a spokesman for the Kunar governor’s office. Wasifi said there have been street protests against the attacks, and he, too, pointed a finger at the Pakistani military.
“The Kunar government wants the central government to take necessary measures to put an urgent end to this because diplomatic efforts have had no effect,” he said. “Our people’s tolerance is zero, and they are ready to have an uprising in Kunar and defend their own places with their own empty hands.”
Senior military leaders from Afghanistan and Pakistan will soon meet in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, the capital of Nangarhar province, which also has been affected by the attacks, for high-level discussions on the shelling, according to the Foreign Ministry statement.
In the past, each country has accused the other of doing too little to combat militants on both sides of the border.
The shelling has been heaviest in Kunar and Nangarhar provinces, both of which lie in a region rife with insurgent sanctuaries on both sides of the border.
Relations between the two countries are already rocky — many Afghans suspect the Pakistani intelligence service of funding and supporting the Taliban, and the Pakistani government has grown tired of housing an estimated 3 million Afghan migrants, threatening recently to expel them all by the end of the year.
Until Sunday’s Foreign Ministry statement, officials with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force have evaded questions from Afghan journalists about the rocket attacks.
At a news conference Monday, top ISAF spokesman Brig. Gen. Gunter Katz acknowledged the attacks, but would not be drawn out on where they were coming from.
“While we have to face that there are continued cross-border incidents by the insurgency at the Afghan-Pakistani border, ISAF can neither confirm nor deny this specific rocket attack,” he said, referring to the weekend attack.
When asked by a Stars and Stripes reporter if the Pakistani military was behind the rocket attacks, as Afghan security and government officials have claimed, Katz said the attacks are under investigation.
“I have no information on the origin of the possible attacks,” he said.
Pakistan’s fragile relations with Afghanistan are mirrored in the difficult relations between Pakistan and the U.S. and other NATO countries. The recent agreement by Pakistan to reopen the border to crucial NATO supply trucks followed months of negotiations. Islamabad closed the key border crossing after a U.S. airstrike killed 24 Pakistani border troops in November.
Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this story.