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Afghan police demand weapons amid simmering tension with Pakistan

By Hamid Shalizi

GOSHTA, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan border police, enraged by recent clashes with their Pakistani counterparts, are pleading for more weapons to take on their neighbors, escalating the tension between the two sides.

The fighting, in which an Afghan border policeman was killed last week, has caused a sharp deterioration in relations between the important U.S. allies, coming days before the Pakistani general election.

Pakistan is seen as vital in bringing stability to Afghanistan as most Western forces prepare to withdraw by the end of next year.

The commander of border police in Goshta district in Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar province, Bakht Jamal Eshaaqzai, said his 250-strong forces were armed with mortars and machine guns, but that it would be difficult to match Pakistan's heavy artillery and tanks, visible on the other side of the border.

Eshaaqzai says Pakistan had 12 manned outposts in Goshta, while Afghanistan had three.

"We are under threat from their superior equipment. We urge the government to send us more as soon as possible," he told reporters and members of Kabul-based think tank Afghan Analysis Awareness, who drove from the capital to Goshta on Wednesday.

Shahzada, who only goes by one name, is one of hundreds of border police who have taken up positions over the last two days in Goshta.

"We have high morale, but what we really need is heavy artillery," he said. Sporting a long beard and resting his hand on a machine gun, he added: "We're ready to eliminate our enemies."

Pakistan artillery has destroyed several Afghan outposts over the last week in Goshta, where the remains of sandbag and concrete forts stand crumbling under the baking sun.

The cross-border clashes on Monday and last week sparked large protests across Afghanistan, drawing thousands of men to the center of the capital, Kabul, where they chanted "Death to Pakistan".

The United States and other powers involved in Afghanistan have been trying to promote cooperation between the Asian neighbors, who have a history of mistrust.

Pakistan says that both clashes were the result of unprovoked action by Afghan forces.

Afghanistan and Pakistan have had testy relations since Pakistan was formed in 1947, at the end of British colonial rule over India. Afghanistan has never officially accepted the border between them, known as the Durand Line.

Afghanistan says Pakistan is encroaching on its territory. Last week, Afghan police partially destroyed a Pakistani-built gate which is located around 750 meters (820 yards) from the Afghan police outpost.

Pakistan counters that fortifications built in recent years are for better management and are on its side of the border.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai reiterated on Thursday that his country will never accept the current border.

"If they (Pakistan) are trying to force Afghanistan to accept the Durand Line by way of these attacks, they will fail," Karzai told a gathering at the 80th anniversary of the founding of Kabul University.

(Editing by Amie Ferris-Rotman and Nick Macfie)

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