Al Jazeera, June 27, 2011

Afghan general claims fresh Pakistan shelling

Pakistan denies accusation that hundreds of its mortars and rockets were fired into eastern Afghanistan provinces

By Mujib Mashal

Afghanistan has levelled fresh accusations against Pakistani forces for shelling its border areas, despite denials from Pakistani officials.

Ratcheting up tensions between the two neighbours, a senior Afghan border security official said that dozens of mortars landed on Sunday in the eastern Kunar province, injuring and killing several.

"Only yesterday, at 4am, about 35 rockets landed on villages in our Kunar province," General Aminullah Amarkhail, commander of the eastern border police, told Al Jazeera on Monday.

"Village elders tell us at least 20 people were killed, but we have not been able to confirm because the area is very far and difficult to get to."

Afghan officials say they have proof the attacks were by Pakistani security forces and not the Taliban
Afghan officials say they have proof the attacks were by Pakistani security forces and not the Taliban (Photo: EPA)

Amarkhail's claims come a day after Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, accused Pakistan of firing 470 rockets and mortars into Kunar and adjoining Nangarhar province over the past three weeks.

He said the bombardment had killed 36 people, including 12 children, and demanded that they "be stopped immediately".

Amarkhail put the total number of rockets at 570. "In one month, hundreds of families have been displaced because of these attacks," he told Al Jazeera.

The shelling targeted areas where NATO forces have withdrawn and where Pakistani Taliban fighters have moved in, Afghan border officials said.

Afghan military officials have confirmed that in the past two days, Afghan forces have retaliated with force, firing into Pakistani posts across the border.

Pakistani rejection

Pakistani officials have rejected Karzai's claims. But the Pakistani newspaper Dawn quoted on Monday Major-General Athar Abas, the military spokesman, as saying that "[a] few accidental rounds" may have landed in Afghanistan as their army battles Taliban fighters in the border region.

"Pakistanis turn a blind eye and a deaf ear, like they have done in the past," Amarkhail said, assuming that the Pakistani officials were hinting that it was the Taliban who fired the rockets.

"They say it could be Taliban firing. We have proof it is Pakistani forces. There is international community here, we have technology to tell."

He said the Taliban do not have access to the kind of mortars and rockets that have been fired on them.

"If Taliban had such weapons - 85km-range rockets - they will take over the entire Pakistan," Amarkhail said.

"We wonder why is there discrepancy between what Pakistani leaders say and what they do in action.

"In meetings and agreements they promise friendship and that they will not invade, then they attack us."

Amarkhail thinks the attacks might be related to Pakistan's unease about the prospects of Afghanistan signing a strategic agreement with the US.

Marc Grossman, US President Barack Obama's special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, is in Kabul to discuss the agreement with Afghan officials.

"Our neighbours want a weak government in Afghanistan - that's why they do it. They want to undermine us as we get ready to sign a strategic agreement with the US. They don’t want that," he said.

In a statement issued on Sunday, Karzai said he had discussed the issue with Asif Ali Zardari, his Pakistani counterpart, on the sidelines of an international counterterrorism conference in Iran.

But Zardari denied that government forces were behind the shelling. The issue has been brought to the attention of US General David Petraeus, the overall NATO commander in Afghanistan, and US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, the statement said.

Zalmay Rassoul, the Afghan foreign minister, has summoned Pakistan's ambassador to lodge an official complaint.

The Afghan claims come after armed fighters staged two major cross-border raids from Afghanistan into Pakistan earlier this month.

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