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Tension rises on AfPak border

world Updated: Jul 12, 2011 00:35 IST

Weeks of deadly cross-border shelling from Pakistan and militant attacks from Afghanistan are threatening a fragile thaw between the long-wary nations, raising alarm on both sides about the potential for expanded regional conflict as the U.S. presence in Afghanistan shrinks.

Afghan officials allege that the Pakistani military recently launched more than 450 rocket and artillery strikes on two eastern Afghan provinces, killing as many as 40 civilians.

Pakistani authorities say six cross-frontier assaults by insurgents based in those provinces have killed least 55 Pakistani security personnel.

Officials on both sides say the attacks portend the dangers of a U.S. military drawdown, particularly along a poorly secured border where militant groups are cooperating to expand their territories.

The border section along northeastern Konar and Nangahar provinces has long been among Afghanistan's least patrolled, making it fertile ground for insurgents, and U.S. military officials said they do not have a clear understanding of the violence or the motives behind it. Some Western officials said Afghanistan and Pakistan may be stoking the tensions in a bid to wrest concessions from U.S. benefactors - or to exert power over the long-disputed border and beyond.

Pakistani, Afghan and U.S. military representatives met on Thursday in Pakistan, the latest in a series of high-level discussions on the topic, and officials on all sides said they were hopeful that a recent improvement in ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan would keep the situation from escalating.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai said his troops would not respond to the shelling from Pakistan, which Islamabad says has been minimal and aimed only at fleeing militants.

(In association with The Washington Post. For more log on to www.washingtonpost.com )