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Afghan parliament dismisses key ministers

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Afghanistan's parliament has voted to dismiss the country's interior and defence ministers over continued cross-border shelling, which the Afghan government blames the Pakistani army for, as well as other issues.

The parliament voted to remove the pair on Saturday despite promises to reinforce the border from both.

Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, has previously opted to keep ministers in their roles in an acting capacity after similar votes.

On Saturday, Karzai's office said that he would decide on whether or not to dismiss the ministers following a national security meeting on Sunday.

"Both ministers failed to receive votes of confidence and we ask President Karzai to introduce new ministers," said Abdul Rahoof Ibrahimi, Speaker of the House, after a bitter debate that underscores the problems in store for Karzai's administration ahead of 2014 presidential elections.

The Afghan army has sent additional troops and long-range artillery to its mountainous border with Pakistan, as tensions continue to rise over cross-border shelling incidents.

Tensions rising

The Afghan military has for months accused the Pakistani army of firing hundreds of rockets into the two eastern provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. The Afghan government says that the rockets are targeting havens used by anti-state fighters, but that they also force Afghan civilians to flee their homes.

"The defence ministry has reinforced army corps 201 and 203 and has specially created another division from which two battalions have already been sent there," Abdul Rahim Wardak, the defence minister, told lawmakers before the vote to remove him.

"We have also sent long-range artillery and ammunition for use by all army corps," Wardak said, adding that some artillery was being specially refurbished for the eastern border.

Afghanistan's foreign ministry summoned the Pakistani ambassador in Kabul last week, warning him that continued shelling would damage already fragile bilateral ties.

Pakistan rejects accusation

Pakistan's military has rejected the Afghan accusation, saying that it only fires in retaliation to fire received from anti-state fighters.

It says that that members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan use safe havens in Afghan territory to launch attacks against Pakistani army posts.

Bismillah Mohammadi, the interior minister, was summoned along with Wardak to explain the government's response to the cross-border shelling.

Mohammadi showed several pictures of exploded 155mm rocket casings to MPs and told them they should have "no doubt in your minds" that they were fired by Pakistani soldiers.

"It's impossible to say that Taliban are involved because these rockets are only in possession of the Pakistan army," Mohammadi said.

Earlier this week, Afghanistan's spy chief Rahmatullah Nabil said the Pakistani military had fired over 2,100 rockets in the last four months into several districts, with most landing in Kunar and some in less populated Nuristan.

Foreign troops are now transitioning security responsibility to the 350,000-strong Afghan security forces as NATO-led forces look to withdraw from the unpopular war by the end 2014.


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