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KABUL Afghanistan — A gunbattle between Afghan and Pakistani security forces in the eastern part of the country Tuesday claimed the lives of several troops on both sides, Afghan officials said.

The border clash comes at a critical time for Afghan-Pakistan relations, when Kabul and Islamabad are seeking to increase cooperation on counterterrorism and other military issues.

Fighting broke out late Tuesday in the Shekin district of Afghanistan’s Paktika province, about 300 miles southeast from Kabul, an Afghan official said. He said it was caused by construction on the border by Pakistani troops.

During the ensuing exchange of gunfire, eight Pakistani troops and one Afghan border guard were killed, said the official, who could not be named because he was not authorized to speak about the issue. “Both sides are in a state of high alert now.”

In Islamabad, media reports citing security sources said six Pakistani soldiers were killed in the exchange.

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Seddiqi said ministry officials were tracking developments in Paktika.

The latest incident threatens to undermine efforts to strengthen security ties between the two neighboring nations, which have a long history of conflict and mistrust. Since taking office last September, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has repeatedly reached out to Islamabad in an effort to stem the flow of attacks in Afghanistan by Pakistani-based insurgent groups.

Ghani reportedly reached a tentative deal to allow intelligence sharing and joint training between Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s intelligence agencies.

The pact was met with stiff resistance from Afghan lawmakers and members of Ghani’s own administration. Critics claim Pakistan's intelligence service is playing a direct role in supporting the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban in their attacks on both sides of the border.

Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.

munoz.carlo@stripes.com

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