US calls on Afghanistan,Pakistan to resolve Torkham issue as tensions escalate

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WASHINGTON: The United States on Wednesday urged Afghanistan and Pakistan to peacefully resolve ongoing tensions at Torkham border as cross-fire continued for a third day.

“We are all watching the tensions very closely,” US State Department spokesperson John Kirby said during his weekly press briefing. The spokesperson said the US was in touch with officials on both sides.

“We continue to urge a calm resolution to the tension,” he added. Sporadic skirmishes continue between Pakistani and Afghan security forces along the tense border in Khyber Agency.

The fighting erupted along the Torkham border Sunday night and continued erratically over the next two days, apparently after Afghan forces resorted to ‘unprovoked firing’ to disrupt the construction of a gate at the main border crossing between the two neighbours.

The US State Department spokesperson further said the United States did not want to see violence or escalation in tensions. “Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard Olson, who was in the region at the time of the incident, shared these sentiments,” Kirby said.

Ambassador Olson met with government officials, including Adviser to prime minister on foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz, Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif in Islamabad and discussed a range of bilateral, regional issues,” the spokesperson added.

Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Dr Abdullah Abdullah said in a Twitter message on Monday that the two sides had agreed to cease fire. But firing resumed hours after his tweet, triggering a diplomatic spate between Kabul and Islamabad.

Two Pakistani border guards were wounded in a fresh bout of unprovoked shelling from the Afghan side of the Durand Line as a major injured in Monday night’s firing of Afghan forces died at a military hospital in Peshawar.

A little before Iftar on Tuesday, Pakistani and Afghan security forces traded heavy fire, which continued sporadically for some time, according to tribal sources. There was no official word on the renewed hostilities from either side.

At least two persons, including Major Ali Jawad Changezi of the Frontier Corps, have been killed and around 18 others, mostly civilians, have been wounded since Sunday. Muhammad Ayub Hussain Khil, border police chief in eastern Afghanistan, claimed that two Afghan policemen were also killed and nine others wounded in gunfights.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Army has sent reinforcements and heavy weaponry to the Torkham border Monday night, said Pakistani security officials, who wished not to be named because they were not authorised to speak to the media.

Political Administration in Khyber Agency clamped a curfew in Torkham and Landikotal towns on Monday and closed the Pak-Afghan Highway for all kinds of traffic. However, the administration lifted the curfew in Landikotal Tuesday morning.

A curfew-like situation persists in Torkham where business and trade activities remained suspended for the third day in row. Torkham has virtually become a ghost town as most of the local tribesmen have abandoned their houses and shifted to Landikotal.

Hundreds of trucks and trailers loaded with fresh fruits and vegetables are stranded on both sides of the border due to the closure of the Pak-Afghan Highway. On the Pakistani side of the Durand Line, a long queue of vehicles can be seen from Peshawar to Torkham.

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