China urges for thaw in Pakistan-Afghanistan ties after border clashes
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China urges for thaw in Pakistan-Afghanistan ties after border clashes

HEAVY fighting on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border has reportedly sparked fears in China over the dispute’s potential impact on the US$50 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative.

In response, Beijing officials on Monday urged for an amicable end to the dispute ignited by clashes last Friday, which has reportedly led to over 50 Afghan soldiers dead and over a hundred injured. According to Times of India, the dispute could affect China’s plan to extend CPEC to Afghanistan.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, during a regular press briefing, expressed Beijing’s hope that both sides reach a consensus soon.

“As a close neighbor of Afghanistan and Pakistan, China hopes that both sides can properly settle this incident and jointly safeguard regional peace and stability,” he said.

Last Friday, mere days after the head of Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar visited Kabul, a confrontation erupted between Pakistan and Afghanistan forces on both sides of the Bab-e-Dosti (also known as the Friendship Gate).

Afghan border police reportedly fired on Pakistan Frontier Corps (FC) soldiers who were escorting a population census team in Killi Jahanger and Killi Luqman, claiming they breached the border.

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Pakistan officials said Afghanistan had been notified ahead of the census process but in response, Kandahar police Chief General Abdul Raziq claimed Pakistan had been informed through the Afghan Commissioner not to conduct the census exercise in the village, but they came in military vehicles and opened fire at the Afghan forces.

Inspector General (IG) Frontier Corps (FC) Balochistan Maj Gen Nadeem Anjum claimed 50 Afghan soldiers were killed and another 100 wounded in Pakistan forces’ retaliation to unprovoked firing by Afghan border forces. Pakistan forces also claimed they destroyed five Afghan check posts.

Afghanistan, however, refuted this, claiming the death toll was inflated. Afghanistan’s top envoy to Pakistan, Omar Zakhilwal tweeted “[The] truth is only 2 Afghan soldiers martyred and about 7 injured.” He also called the headlines on Pakistan newspapers “Celebratory front page.”

Following two inconclusive flag meetings that were held on Friday and Saturday, the third round of flag meeting was conducted at the Friendship Gate on Sunday amid heightened security on both sides. Officials – including geological survey experts – from both countries eventually came to an agreement to conduct a geological survey to determine both sides’ geographical boundaries.

SEE ALSO: The politics behind Pakistan’s first census in nearly two decades

The delegation from Pakistan claimed discrepancies have been found between “our maps and the ones represented by Afghan Army” during the meeting.

A decision to open the Friendship Gate will be taken after the survey result is sent to Islamabad and Kabul. Until then, the Bab-e-Dosti will remain closed.

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A boy who was injured during exchange of fire between Pakistan and Afghan forces on the border area receives treatment after he was brought to a hospital in Chaman, Pakistan, May 5, 2017. Source: Reuters/Saeed Ali Achakzai

In the wake of the clashes in the Chaman border dividing Pakistan’s southwest Balochistan province and Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar, some 10,000 locals have left their houses in nearly 10 villages situated along the belt. According to the Provincial Disaster Management Authority, some 2,000 homes were affected by the shelling and firing between both sides.

The dispute between Pakistan and Afghanistan on the Durand Line, a 2,400 km frontier drawn by the British in 1896, has been  escalating since Pakistan reportedly began trenching along it last year.