Afghan-Pakistani Forces Exchange Fire Along Shared Border
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Some other news. For the second time in less than a week, Afghan and Pakistani forces have exchanged fire along their shared border. The countries clashed again yesterday over a gate that Pakistani forces have been building on what Afghans say is their side of the line. The roots of this problem run much deeper.
But as NPR's Sean Carberry reports,.
SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: Several thousand Afghans took to the streets in Kabul to rally against Pakistan, as Afghan and Pakistani forces were trading fire over the construction of a border gate yesterday.
Del Agha is a retired army officer.
DEL AGHA: (Through Translator) I'm ready to volunteer and take my gun and defend my territory. I was a member of the Mujahedeen, so I have experience. I want to go to the frontline and stand against Pakistan.
CARBERRY: Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been on a downward spiral for months. In particular, they've been blaming each other for sabotaging efforts to negotiate with the Taliban. The latest flare up began last Wednesday. Afghan officials say a border police officer approached the Pakistani forces who were building a gate along the border of Nangahar Province. Things got heated. Each country says the other fired first. Regardless, the two countries clashed for six hours and one Afghan border officer died.
Things quieted down, until Afghan President Hamid Karzai spoke over the weekend.
HAMID KARZAI: (Foreign language spoken)
CARBERRY: He started out saying it's in neither country's interests to fight. But then he said Pakistan is attacking and shelling Afghanistan and exporting extremism. Pakistan is either trying to undermine a growing Afghan government, he said, or Pakistan is trying to force Afghanistan to recognize the so-called Durand Line.
DAVOOD MORADIAN: The Durand Line is the international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
CARBERRY: Davood Moradian is a political analyst in Kabul.
MORADIAN: That was an artificial demarcation and it was done in late 19th century.
CARBERRY: At that time, the British annexed a large portion of eastern Afghanistan, and divided the Pashtun people between Afghanistan and what later became Pakistan. To this day, most Afghan Pashtuns, like President Karzai, don't recognize the Durand Line as the legitimate border.
Moradian says it's become a convenient political cause. Opposition politicians in Kabul point out that for 11 years, Karzai said nothing about border issues, and suddenly he's talking tough about Pakistan and the Durand Line.
MORADIAN: By asserting the Pashtun historical claim on the Durand Line, he wants to gain a degree of legitimacy.
CARBERRY: And Karzai wants to use that legitimacy to promote a hand picked successor in next year's presidential election.
Moradian says the border clashes could also unify the Afghan people and boost support for the Afghan security forces. Afghans like Del Agha at yesterday's protest say they're standing together.
AGHA: (Through Translator) Pakistan has created factionalism among us. Now we understand that we must be united to fight foreigners like them.
CARBERRY: NATO is hoping that cooler heads will prevail. They have brokered a truce for the moment in hopes of at least resolving the immediate issue of border gates.
Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul.
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