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May 15, 2017

Tense borders


May 15, 2017

Jaishal Adl is an extremist group that has been responsible for most recent attacks on Iranian border guards and civilians in Sistan-Balochistan which is one of the 31 provinces in Iran and shares borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan. Its capital Zahedan is hardly 40 kilometers away from the point where the three countries meet. In comparison, it is 1600km away from Tehran, the capital of Iran.

Sistan-Balochistan is the largest province of Iran in terms of area with only 2.5 million people, of which one-third live in Zahedan alone. This area contains mostly a Baloch population with some Brahuis scattered here and there.

The Shia-Sunni issues in both Pakistan and Iran are one of the major problems of the bordering areas we are talking about. Many militant groups have emerged in that region, and Jaishal Adl is just one of them. It was formed by some former members of Jandullah group which had become much weaker after the arrest and execution of its leader, Abdul Malik Reigi, in 2010.

Abdul Malik Reigi - also known as Abdul Majid Reigi – was a Sunni Baloch extremist who was reportedly trained in the Binori Town seminary in Karachi and just at the age of 20 joined Jandullah which had a good relationship with Al-Qaeda. Reigi’s brutal nature can be gauged from the fact that he was known to have beheaded his own brother-in-law, Shahab Mansoori.

In some of his interviews available on the web, he declares himself an Iranian Baloch but renounces Baloch nationalism. His motto was to fight for the rights of Sunni Muslims in Iran. If you watch some of his video recordings, you observe a striking similarity between his and Al-Zarqawi’s style of executing hostages.

Abu Musab Al Zarqawi was a Jordanian terrorist who trained in Afghanistan and wreaked havoc in Iraq with his terrorist attacks. He was primarily responsible for instigating the Shia-Sunni conflict in Iraq by creating a terrorist outfit called Al Tauheed Wal Jihad that he led till his death in 2006.

Just two years before his death, Zarqawi joined Al-Qaeda and took an oath of allegiance to Osama bin Laden, and assumed the command of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. In Iran, Abdul Malik Reigi continued his terrorist activities after Zarqawi’s death till 2010, when Iranian forces arrested and executed him. But the border between Iran and Pakistan was seldom peaceful and both countries continued blaming each other for terrorist and spy incursions. Iran and Afghanistan have repeatedly asked Pakistan to control terrorists’ movements from across the border. And the international community has mostly believed in their version.

On May 9 when the Iranian military commander threatened Pakistan with surgical strikes against the terrorist hideouts in Pakistan territory, our Foreign Office immediately protested. The Iranian ambassador to Pakistan, Mehdi Hunerdost, was called and apprised of Pakistan’s concerns about the outburst of Major-General Muhammad Baqari. Interestingly, just a week ago, the Iranian foreign minister had visited Pakistan and both countries had agreed to cooperate on border management issues.

Baqeri’s statement was loud and clear about a possible strike within Pakistan to destroy the alleged terrorist bases. Just like Pakistan, Iran also claims to be a democracy but it seems that both countries lack civilian supremacy in these matters.

Last month, in the border town of Java in Iran, 10 Iranian border guards were killed allegedly by Jaishal Adl firing from the Pakistani territory. Around three years back in 2014, five Iranian border guards were kidnapped and allegedly shifted to Pakistan. Back then, Iran had threatened to enter Pakistani territory to free the hostages, but then they were released apparently after a ransom deal.

The military control of Iranian affairs can also be gauged by the fact that Iran’s defence minister is General Hussain Dehqan who reiterated his resolve to strike back at Pakistan. The civilians are not far behind; Iranian foreign minister, Jawad Zarif, in his recent meetings with Nawaz Sharif also uttered similar thoughts, when a 12-member Iranian delegation was in Pakistan. However, both countries agreed to cooperate on matters from border management to human and drug trafficking.

Earlier, in the last week of April, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had sent a message to Nawaz Sharif, demanding the early capture of the terrorists who attack Iranian guards from inside Pakistan. He also talked about some countries that use proxy war as a tool. Proxy war is term denoting a war fought not by the armies directly but through their proxies in other outfits. Such allegations are not uncommon in this region and almost all neighbouring countries have a tendency to blame each other, be it Afghanistan, India, Iran, or Pakistan.

Almost at the same time we witnessed exchange of fire and hot words between Afghanistan and Pakistan, though the Afghan ambassador in Pakistan rejected the claim made by Pakistani military officials that over 50 Afghan soldiers had been killed by Pakistani firepower. Interestingly, this claim was made by in a press conference in Quetta by the IG FC.

Let sanity prevail in this region. Otherwise, we will find ourselves on the verge of a bigger regional war.


The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK and works in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected]

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