Pakistan, Afghanistan plan to use Google Maps to settle border row

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan and Afghanistan plan on using Google Maps to help resolve a border dispute that led to deadly clashes last week, a senior Pakistani security source said Monday.

At least eight civilians were killed on both sides in fighting that began when a Pakistani census team accompanied by soldiers visited disputed villages along the southern border on Friday.

Pakistan inherited its 2,400-kilometer border with its western neighbor when it gained independence from the British Empire in 1947, but Afghanistan has never formally recognized the frontier.

And while official Afghan maps reflect the so-called ‘Durand Line’, many nationalists believe the true border of their country ends at the River Indus that runs though Pakistan and gave India its name.

A senior Pakistani security source in Islamabad who requested anonymity said: “Officials from the geological survey departments of the two countries will conduct a survey, and they will also make use of Google Maps.”

A second official in Quetta confirmed the sides had agreed to a survey.

Internet firm Google complies with local laws in certain countries that compel it to show borders in line with national demands — for instance, its Indian site shows the entirety of disputed Kashmir as being controlled by India.

In Pakistan, however, the site shows the internationally-recognized de facto border, the Line of Control, marked with a dotted line to denote it is disputed.

Attempts by Pakistan to harden the traditionally soft border with Afghanistan through trenching and fencing that began in 2016 have been met with hostility by Kabul.

Ethnic Pashtuns living in the region have traditionally paid it little heed, with villages straddling the frontier that have mosques and houses with one door in Pakistan and another in Afghanistan.

Pakistani forces on Sunday elevated their rhetoric when they said they had also killed “more than 50 soldiers” in last week’s border clashes — a claim quickly rejected by Kabul, which said it lost two troops.

In an unrelated development, a bomb exploded outside a girls’ school in northwestern Pakistan early Monday, wounding two police officers but injuring no students as classes had not yet begun, authorities said.

The bomb at the school in a suburb of Peshawar, capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, detonated as a counter-terrorism police vehicle drove by, officials said.

“Two counter terrorism department personnel were wounded in the IED (improvise explosive device),” Peshawar police chief Mohammad Tahir said.

A second device was found nearby but was defused, he said.

The blast damaged the main gate of the school and some walls inside, Tahir added.

No group has yet claimed the responsibility for the attack, but Taliban militants opposed to girls’ education have bombed hundreds of school in the northwest and tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

Peshawar, which has suffered for years from militancy and unrest, was the site of Pakistan’s deadliest ever attack, a Taliban assault on an army-run school in 2014 that left more than 150 people dead, most of them children. — AFP