Pakistan shuts key border crossing in wake of shrine attack

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Pakistani authorities shut down a second key border crossing into Afghanistan, halting trade supplies to the neighboring landlocked country and increasing tension between the two nations in the wake of a bloody suicide bombing at a sufi shrine in Pakistan, officials said Saturday.

The border closure at Chaman in Pakistan’s southwest Baluchistan province came after an attack on a Sufi shrine in southern Pakistan on Thursday left 88 worshippers dead. The move was seen as an effort to pressure Kabul to act against militants who Pakistan says have sanctuaries in Afghanistan.

The attack at Lal Shahbaz Qalander shrine in Sehwan was claimed by the Islamic State group.

Pakistan security forces have launched nationwide operations they say have left more than 100 “terrorists” dead.

Pakistan closed the border at Torkham hours after the bombing and the Chaman border was shut late Friday, said a senior army official.

A second official confirmed the details, saying trucks and shipping containers carrying trade supplies were parked miles away from the border crossings. Torkham connects Pakistan to Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province and Chaman is located near Spin Boldak in Kandahar.

The Pakistani officials asked to remain anonymous because they are not authorized to brief the media on the record.

The latest developments come amid media reports that Pakistani troops backed by artillery targeted camps belonging to Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a breakaway faction of the Pakistani Taliban, near the Afghan border, causing an unspecified number of militant casualties.

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has claimed to have carried out a number of attacks, including the Feb. 13 suicide assault in Lahore that killed seven police officer and six civilians. Pakistan says Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and the main Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan militant groups had been operating from Afghan areas near the Pakistani border and that Kabul in the past ignored Islamabad’s pleas to take action against them.

Pakistan’s military said Friday it summoned Afghan diplomats and handed over a list of 76 suspected “terrorists” who were hiding in Afghanistan. Pakistan wants immediate action by Afghan authorities, including the suspects’ extradition to Islamabad.

In Kabul, the Afghan government Saturday summoned Pakistan’s ambassador in protest of recent shelling in Afghanistan’s eastern provinces. The foreign ministry summoned Ambassador Abrar Hussain in Kabul, where Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai sought an explanation from Hussain, but also gave his condolences regarding recent suicide attacks in Pakistan.

At least two people have been killed and two others wounded in the shelling from Pakistan, according to reports.

Karzai said the Afghan government wants Pakistan to take strict action against terrorists that are hiding in Pakistan.

He expressed concern over the closure of the Torkham and Chaman border crossings and asked that the gates be reopened.

Also on Saturday, the Afghan army chief of staff, Gen. Qadam Shah Shahim, told reporters that security forces have killed 1,955 Islamic State group fighters over the past year including important military leaders and foreign fighters.

Shahim said he regretted that Pakistan attacked eastern Afghanistan with artillery fire and said “we have shared our concerns through diplomatic channels with Pakistani authorities. We are waiting for the response through the diplomatic channels; otherwise we are fully ready to defend our country.”

To a question about the list of 76 “terrorists” given by Islamabad to Kabul, Shahim said they too gave such a list of terrorists to Pakistan in the past and hoped Pakistan will act against them because they were using Pakistani soil to launch attacks in his country.

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