August 19, 2015 / 8:14 AM / 4 years ago

Ties with Pakistan tense as Afghanistan celebrates independence

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan and Pakistan have summoned each other’s ambassadors to explain fighting between the two countries’ security forces that killed up to 11 border guards, with the tensions marring independence day celebrations in Kabul.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (C) attends Afghan Independence Day celebrations in Kabul August 19, 2015. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

Cooperation between the two neighbours, both battling militant insurgencies is seen as key to peace in Afghanistan, since Pakistan is widely believed to wield considerable influence over the Taliban and allied militants.

In the meeting with Ambassador Syed Abrar Hussain, Afghanistan’s foreign ministry expressed serious objections to the heavy artillery firing in the border province of Kunar, the ministry said in a statement. Eight police were killed, it said.

Afghanistan’s envoy in Islamabad was called to the foreign ministry on Wednesday about what it called Kabul’s allegations and media campaign to malign Pakistan, as well as the border fight it said left three guards dead over the last two days.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has worked in his first year in office to improve ties with measures such as intelligence sharing, but after bombs in Kabul killed dozens this month he furiously blamed Pakistan for “exporting war”.

“The fight against terrorism must be the top priority for countries in the region, Ghani said in speech to mark Independence Day, without mentioning Pakistan by name.

“Nobody can force us to accept their demands by threat,” he said.

That anger was also felt on the streets of Kabul where the city’s residents celebrated the holiday wrapped in Afghan flags.

“I’ve come to celebrate our Independence Day, we’re celebrating against Pakistan,” said city resident Mohammad Zamir, as drummers and dancers performed by the ruins of houses and shops destroyed by a massive truck bomb on Aug. 7.

Pakistan has condemned the recent attacks and blamed “spoilers and detractors” for trying to create mistrust between the two countries, which are divided by a border defined in a 1919 treaty recognising Afghan independence from the British empire, although the country was never fully colonized. The treaty is celebrated on Aug. 19.

Many feel Afghanistan’s sovereignty is still tested by the presence of foreign troops and militants. The Taliban issued a statement on Tuesday saying Afghans should fight for freedom as their forefathers did from the British.

Ties with Pakistan have also been strained by the news in July of the death of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar two years ago. Afghanistan says he died in a Karachi hospital and that authorities concealed this from Kabul.

The announcement appeared to cause rifts at the top of the militant Islamist group fighting for power in Afghanistan, and cast doubts over an incipient peace process, with a round of talks postponed last month.

An Afghan delegation to Pakistan last week led by Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani demanded “serious and practical measures” from Islamabad over militant attacks it said came from across the border.

Editing by Jeremy Laurence and Angus MacSwan

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