Pakistan announced it was reopening its volatile southwestern border with Afghanistan at the start of the holy month of Ramzan on Saturday, weeks after bloody clashes broke out between the two countries’ militaries in the area.
Islamabad decided to close the major crossing at Chaman in early May after Afghan troops opened fire on a Pakistani census team, sparking a deadly firefight across the frontier, leaving at least eight civilians dead and an unconfirmed number of military casualties on both sides.
Afghanistan had viewed some of the villages visited by the Pakistani census takers as within their territory, but the two countries later agreed to use Google Maps to help settle the dispute. After weeks with traffic between the neighbors choked off at the border, the Pakistani military on Saturday said it would reopen the crossing “on humanitarian grounds.”
In a statement the Army said it had the area on its side of the frontier under control, “having pushed back Afghan Border police troops,” adding that “no border violation will be acceptable.” The so-called “Durand Line,” a 2,400-kilometer frontier drawn by the British in 1896 and disputed by Kabul, has witnessed increased tension since Pakistan began trenching along it last year.
Ethnic Pashtuns living in the remote region have traditionally paid little heed to the frontier and villages straddling it have mosques and houses with one door in Pakistan and another in Afghanistan. The border is not the only area of dispute between the neighbors: Afghanistan has long accused Pakistan of sponsoring the Afghan Taliban, though Islamabad says it provides the militants with safe haven as a “lever” to bring them to peace talks.
The announcement of the border opening comes as officials in another part of Balochistan said Iranian forces had fired across the border at a convoy of traders in Panjgur district, killing one man. Relations between the neighboring countries have been tense since April when eight Iranian border guards were killed in clashes with armed rebels in Sistan-Baluchistan province. Iranian authorities alleged the attack was carried out by militants hiding in Pakistan.