Battling cross-border terrorism

January 28, 2024

Pakistan, Iran repair diplomatic ties after targeting militant outfits on each other’s soil

Battling cross-border terrorism

Following recent tensions between Pakistan and Iran, bilateral ties have been normalizing rapidly. Iran had violated Pakistan’s airspace, claiming it had targeted militants from Jaish-ul Adl, located close to the Iran-Pakistan border. This outfit was established in Iran in 2012. Its fighters mostly operate in the Sistan-Baluchistan province of Iran, adjacent to Pakistan.

Following the violation, Pakistan first recalled its ambassador from Tehran and lodged a formal protest. Next, in the absence of a positive response from Iran, Pakistani security forces targeted militant hideouts in Iran. Since the dead and injured in the strike were all foreigners, Iran’s response options were limited. The Iranian government issued a statement saying that it would investigate how these people had entered the country.

Iran has faced terrorist attacks on its territory for a long time. After Abdul Malik Regi was sentenced to death, the militant movement Jandullah ceased to operate. Another organisation called Jaish-ul Adl was formed in 2012. However, this outfit remained mostly dormant. On September 30, 2022, some people in the southeastern Iranian city of Zahedan took to the streets to protest alleged excesses by Iranian security forces and demanded accountability. However, security forces used lethal force against the protesters. The Human Rights Watch stated that “security forces using unlawful lethal force, killed and wounded several dozen protesters in Zahedan, killing most people during the protests on a day being called Bloody Friday.” This event allowed Jaish-ul Adl to recruit new anti-Iran fighters. Since then, the Jaish has been carrying out terrorist attacks in Iran. Last year, the Islamic State in the Khorasan Province also carried out several attacks in the region. Most of the fighters involved in these attacks were of Tajik origin. Iran has been fighting ISIS forces in Syria and Iraq and these organisations have been targeting Shia Muslims both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan besides carrying out attacks in Iran.

On the other hand, Pakistani authorities believe that some Baloch militants engaged in attacks in Balochistan are based in Iran. Earlier, following the arrest of Indian agent Kulbhushan Yadav from Balochistan it had been revealed that he had entered the province from Iran. The death of some Baloch militants of Pakistani origin on Iranian soil seems to have provided further corroboration of this.

Battling cross-border terrorism

Former caretaker interior minister Mir Sarfraz Bugti says that the Foreign Office has been providing dossiers to the Iranian government from time to time about the location of anti-Pakistan militants and demanding action against them.

In April 2019, armed men had killed 14 people travelling in a Karachi-bound bus in Gwadar district. Most of these people were Pakistan Navy personnel. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had then held a press conference at the Foreign Office and alleged that the attackers had come from Iran.

Authorities later claimed that militants based on Iranian territory had carried out attacks against security forces in Chogab area of Panjgur district in January 2023, Sangwan in April 2023 and later on in June 2023 in Kech district. Responsibility for these attacks was consistently claimed by the outlawed Baloch Liberation Front and Baloch Liberation Army.

The government protested to the Iranian authorities following these attacks and demanded that the action be taken against the hideouts of these militant organisations. However, no concrete action was taken by Iran in this regard.

Some border districts in both Iran and Pakistan remain troubled areas. International drug traffickers have been using these routes to smuggle drugs from Afghanistan. The borders of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan meet here and the area is known in the international drug networks as the Golden Crescent. Those illegally travelling to Western countries from Pakistan and Afghanistan also use the route to enter Iran and reach Turkey. They enter Iran from the border areas in these districts. It is said that Baloch militants go back to Iran through these routes after carrying out attacks in Pakistan.

Battling cross-border terrorism

After the recent escalation, sanity has prevailed and governments of both countries have announced plans to repair the diplomatic damage. Regional players including Turkey, China and Russia have also played their role in defusing the tensions to prevent further escalation.

The Foreign Office has said that Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian will visit Pakistan on January 29. “Following the telephone conversation between the foreign ministers of Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran, it has been agreed that ambassadors of both countries may return to their respective posts by January 26,” the FO said in a statement. The FO said that the Iranian foreign minister would travel to Pakistan on Jan 29 at the invitation of Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry has reaffirmed its commitment to good neighbourly ties with Pakistan and expressed its resolve not to allow external elements to strain the longstanding relationship.

The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist, researcher and trainer. He also works for the digital media platform The Khorasan Diary

Battling cross-border terrorism