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KABUL — Tensions between Kabul and Islamabad have flared anew just a day after the U.S. commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan traveled to Pakistan to try to quell simmering animosity between the neighbors.

On Tuesday, the Afghan Foreign Ministry issued a terse statement condemning Pakistan’s “unilateral construction and physical reinforcement activities along the Durand Line,” referring to the disputed border between the countries, where insurgent activity is still common on both sides.

A spokesman for the ministry would not elaborate on the statement, which also expressed “grave concern about the Pakistani rocket and artillery attacks against different areas of Kunar [province],” referring to sporadic incidents of rockets and mortars coming over the border from Pakistan into eastern Afghanistan for several years, chasing many Afghan villagers from their homes.

Afghans blame the Pakistani military for the attacks, which Islamabad denies. Pakistan’s military says members of the Pakistani Taliban, who focus their attacks inside their own country, take refuge in Afghanistan in the border provinces that are being shelled.

Tuesday’s diplomatic condemnation of Pakistan came less than a week after the Afghan Defense Ministry abruptly canceled a planned joint military exercise with the Pakistani military, citing recent cross-border shelling.

The timing of the condemnation was particularly worrisome for peace efforts in Afghanistan, for which Pakistani cooperation is deemed crucial as insurgents go back and forth across the porous border.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai recently returned from a trip to Qatar to discuss tentative plans for the Taliban to open an office there, which would be an early step toward a negotiated peace.

On Monday, Gen. Joseph Dunford, commander of international forces in Afghanistan, met with the Pakistani army’s chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, as part of the so-called Tri-partite Commission, which is aimed at increasing cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, despite regular meetings of the commission, relations between the countries have remained strained.

International Security Assistance Force officials declined to comment for this story, though Dunford released a statement after Monday’s meeting in Pakistan.

“The Pakistanis, the Afghans and the international community all desire peace and security in the region,” the statement reads. ”These meetings are important to achieving that goal as we continue to explore ways to expand our relationship.”

U.S. Embassy officials also declined comment.

Afghanistan and Pakistan have had a rocky relationship since the Taliban was ousted from power in Afghanistan in 2001. Afghan officials often accuse Pakistan of sheltering the Taliban and Pakistani officials say militants operating in their country take refuge in Afghanistan. Afghan politicians also regularly point the finger at Pakistan in the wake of suicide bombings and other attacks on the government and military, enraging Islamabad.

The nearly 2 million Afghan refugees still living in Pakistan are another source of friction, with Pakistan from time to time threatening to expel them, a move that could create a humanitarian crisis for Afghanistan.

The increasing rift between Pakistan and Afghanistan is a blow to potential peace negotiations between insurgents and the Kabul government, Afghan writer and political analyst Mohammad Hassan Haqyar said.

“They [Pakistan] still have lots of influence on the peace deal and negotiations,” he said. “Tension in the relationship between the two countries will threaten a peace deal.”

Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.

druzin.heath@stripes.com Twitter: @Druzin_Stripes


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