The author is a journalist covering cyber security and the geopolitics of India’s neighbourhood, focusing on Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. He tweets at @aveeksen
On 26th of April, 9 Iranian border guards on patrol were killed by terrorists of Jaish ul Adl by weapons fired from Pakistan’s soil. This incident happened in Iran’s southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan. The head of the Iranian armed forces, Major General Mohammad Baqeri, was quoted as saying that Iran can’t accept continuation of the situation and that Pakistan should shut down the bases of the terrorists. He added that if that attacks continue, “we will hit their safe havens and cells, wherever they are.”
The Sistan- and -Baluchestan province is a sparsely populated tribal region of Iran with a significant Sunni Baluch population. Drug smugglers and Jaish ul Adl terrorists operate in close coordination in the area. Jaish ul Adl and prior to its predecessor terror group Jundullah had often been the cause of tensions between Iran and Pakistan. Iran has on a regular basis shelled Jaish ul Adl hideouts inside Pakistan.
Iran has, on various occasions, accused foreign powers, including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the US and the UK of meddling and using proxies to create unrest and foment trouble in Sistan and Baluchistan province.
Abdolmalek Rigi, the head of terrorist group Jundallah was captured by Iran in February 2010. Reports claimed that he was captured by the Iranians after taking a flight from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan. However as per a report in Foreign Policy by Mark Perry, a retired intelligence officer with knowledge of the incident told him(Perry) that Rigi was detained by Pakistani intelligence officers in Pakistan and handed over to Iran.
Days prior to the terror attack last month, Iran’s President expressed his displeasure at Pakistan joining the Arab Coalition during the state visit of Pakistan Parliament’s Speaker Sadiq. According to an analysis published in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, “Iran suspects that under the garb of fighting terrorism the military alliance will intervene in Iraq and Syria and Saudi Arabia will also push the alliance into Yemen, Pakistan says that the coalition is focused on combating terrorism and it is neither for nor against any country.”
Such terror attacks are common in Sistan-Baluchistan province. Terrorists and narcotics smugglers routinely attack Iran’s police forces and border guards in southeastern Iran. Earlier this month, an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander, Rouhollah Aali, was assassinated by two terrorists in Kurin District of Zahedan county. The terrorists were subsequently killed by Iran’s Basij volunteer forces.
Iranian leaders right from Ayatollah Khamenei, President Rouhani, FM Zarif and Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli condemned Pakistan publicly after this attack and urged it to take action. Iran’s Foreign Minister Zarif headed a political and military delegation to Pakistan on May 3 for talks on action against terrorist groups, particularly along the border areas. Zarif said that Iran and Pakistan have agreed to establish a hotline contact between Director Generals of Military Operations and border commanders of the two countries to have better security on border.
The harsher response from Iran could be due to the Presidential elections that are scheduled this month. In 2009, in the run-up to the presidential elections, 25 people were killed and dozens injured in a terrorist attack by Jundullah in a mosque bombing in Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan province. It was followed by the detection of a homemade bomb on board a Tehran-bound from Ahvaz, in Khuzestan province in southwest Iran. The bomb was defused after the plane made an emergency landing.
Jundullah wasn’t involved in the Khuzestan incident. Khuzestan and Sistan-Baluchistan provinces of Iran have witnessed numerous attacks attributed to separatist terrorist groups. Khuzestan province borders Iraq and is home to Iran’s Arab minority. Sistan-Baluchistan province borders Pakistan and has a large Sunni Baluch population.
Fear of terror attacks could lead to lower voter turnout in the Sistan-Baluchistan province. Given the (large Sunni) demographics of the province, a lower voter turnout could lead to Iran getting bad press abroad about the elections and it wants to prevent it at any cost. Iran-Pakistan relations had come close to reaching a flashpoint but things in all probability won’t escalate if Pakistan cooperates with Iran in maintaining security till the elections. It might take transgressions later lightly but right now Iran won’t take any security threats lightly.
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