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Pakistan fired a barrage of rockets across its southwestern border, killing nine people and wounding 50 in an Afghan frontier town, Afghan officials said Friday. Pakistan said Afghan border guards fired first and blamed them for the previous night’s exchange.

The shooting that led to the casualties in the town of Spinboldak was the latest cross-border exchange between the two countries. Earlier this month, Pakistan fired rockets into Afghanistan’s northeastern Kunar province, killing three people.

The deadly exchanges have increased since Pakistan in 2017 began raising a fence along its 2,500-kilometre (1,500-mile) border with Afghanistan known as the Durand Line. Pakistan considers the colonial-era division created in 1893 as an international border, while Afghanistan has never recognized the boundary.

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Both Pakistan and Afghanistan accuse the other of harbouring its enemies, saying militant groups stage attacks in one country, then cross the porous border and seek sanctuary on the other side. Islamabad says it needs the fence to block militants from crossing.

Pakistan has been widely accused by Kabul and the United States of providing safe haven to the Taliban, an accusation that Islamabad denies. For its part, Islamabad says Pakistani insurgents – such as the Baluchistan Liberation Army, which in June attacked the stock exchange building in the southern port city of Karachi – are hiding in Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province.

Islamabad also claims the Pakistani Taliban – known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, a separate group from the Afghan Taliban – are hiding in Afghanistan. A U.N. report earlier this month said up to 6,500 Pakistani militants, most of them belonging to the TTP, are hiding in Afghanistan, with links to the Islamic State group, which is based in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province and is a threat to both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Afghan Defence Ministry said rockets fired by Pakistan pummeled Spinboldak late on Thursday, inflicting the casualties and drawing retaliatory fire from Afghan security forces.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry said Friday that Afghan forces opened “unprovoked fire on innocent civilians” and also Pakistani troops at the border posts. It said Pakistani troops responded and “acted only in self-defence.” The situation was later defused through military and diplomatic channels, Pakistan said.

Earlier on Thursday, Pakistani troops had been deployed to the Chaman border crossing, opposite Spinboldak, to contain hundreds of ethnic Pashtun demonstrators protesting the closure of the border because of the coronavirus pandemic. Three protesters were killed when troops opened fire after the rally deteriorated.

Many Pashtuns living in Pakistan work in Afghanistan as daily labourers, crossing the border for work and returning home at night. Since the closing of the Chaman crossing, they have not been able to go there to work. The border has since reopened for trade only.

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