Air Cdre Khalid Iqbal (R)
Recent suicide attacks against a religious gatherings in the Iranian port city of Chahbahar by a Bloch militant outfit Jundallah, has yet once again brought forth frequently surfacing fault line in Pak-Iran relations. Iranian leaders used some very stern language in demanding that Pakistan act against the militant outfit.
Iran is the one of the Pakistan’s closest friends, which always stands with the people of Pakistan in hard times. In the recent floods which played havoc, the government and people of Iran extended helping hands in mitigating the sufferings of flood-affected people in Pakistan. While praying on the eve of Eid-ul-Fitr, the Supreme Leader issued a global appeal to Muslims the world over to come forward and help their Pakistani brethren during their dire time. His heartfelt emotions manifested in tears rolling down his cheeks.
Iran has also taken a fresh policy initiative on Kashmir by mentioning it as an occupied territory. Over the preceding six months or so, Iran has supported the Kashmir struggle at least on three occasions, and has bracketed the situation in the state with Gaza and Afghanistan. In his message to the Haj pilgrims, this year, Ayatollah Khamenei called upon the Muslims across the world to back the liberation movement in Kashmir. “Today the major duty of the elite of the Ummah is to provide help to the Palestinian nation, to sympathise and provide assistance to the nations of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Kashmir, to engage in struggle and resistance against the aggressions of the US and the Zionist regime.” Iran has taken a principled stance; this indeed marks Iran’s come-back-home in the context of its original Kashmir policy.
Pakistan already has to deal with US forces engaging in cross-border actions in FATA. Pakistan doesn’t want to see problems on a third border and will try to address Iranian concerns. Over the last one year or so, there has been significant cooperation between Iran and Pakistan to apprehend the group’s leaders and main operatives. Collaboration between the two countries has weakened Jundallah. However, fresh attacks prove that Jundallah has not disintegrated.
Iran is a major regional stakeholder in Afghanistan and Pakistan wants to formulate a joint approach for a sustainable peace in Afghanistan. No Afghan strategy is likely to succeed without active participation of Iran. Iran has shown pragmatism by quietly helping the Afghan government to offset its financial hardship. Kabul’s admission regarding the funds from Iran speaks volumes about how both sides are looking at a post-NATO Afghanistan.
The Western threat of military strike against Iran has been a matter of great concern for an average Pakistani. Pakistanis believe that Iran has the right to pursue development of nuclear energy for legitimate and peaceful purposes and that any doubt or dispute in the matter should be resolved through dialogue rather than arm twisting. The general impression in Pakistan is that the aggressive American posture towards Iran arises out of Israeli pressure that has been brought upon the US and European allies. Israel attacked and destroyed the Iraqi reactor in a pre-emptive action. In subsequent years it planned similar attacks against Pakistan’s nuclear facilities in collusion with India, which were thwarted by Pakistan’s military. During recent years it attacked a Syrian nuclear facility, all with absolute impunity.
Jundallah, not to be mixed up with the Pakistani group of the same name is a secretive outfit based in a remote region infested with insurgencies. Jundallah is tribally based within the Rigi clan in Sistan-Balochistan. Substantial and reliable information on the group is hard to obtain. Jundallah means “Soldiers of God”; the group also calls itself the ‘People’s Resistance Movement of Iran’. The Bloch minority lives across the Iranian-Afghan-Pakistani border regions, of these many Baloch groups seeking autonomy from their respective national governments are subscribe to militant activities. Details on Jundallah’s funding, training and size are limited, Estimates of the group’s size range from a few hundred militants to 1,000 operatives. Most of the Baloch tribes, such as the Marri, Narouie, Shahnavazi, Gamshadzai, Shahbakhsh etc are opposed to Jundallah due to general tribal rivalries. Jundallah does not appear to have any major support among the Baluch tribes in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
Jundallah’s funding comes mostly from Iranian Baluch expatriates worldwide. Some of that money could come from other sources, such as the US supporters, and be distributed via the expatriates. Jundallah also benefits from Sistan-Baluchistan’s economy, which is based on cross-border trade ie smuggling. A large portion of Afghanistan’s opium travels through this part of Iran, and the Rigis allegedly have agreements with Afghan drug barons to provide safe passage to export consignments in exchange with protection money. The group first gained notoriety in June 2005, when it claimed responsibility for an attack on a convoy of Iranian security officers. But group’s defining moment was an attack on Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s convoy in December, 2005. This attack occurred just after Ahmadinejad’s election as president. He was seen as much less flexible with the Balochis than his predecessor, whose representatives had held discussions with Jundallah discussing the Balochis’ demands like more autonomy and access to high-level government jobs. Ahmadinejad reversed this policy, thus increasing local support for the militant group.
On the average, Jundallah carried out three to six attacks per year from 2006 to 2009. The targets usually were security forces, though civilians were always among the casualties. Tactical shift began towards end 2008, when the group carried out its first suicide IED attack, hitting security forces headquarters in Saravan. Then in May 2009, it a suicide IED at a mosque in Zahedan which was group’s first attack on a major civilian target. The group continues to have capability and capacity to carryout trans-border operations.
People of Pakistan will never forget the gestures of the Supreme Leader and the people of Iran. Pakistani people stand shoulder to shoulder with their Iranian brethren in their campaign against terrorism. Hopefully, the issue would be resolved between the two neighbourly countries to the chagrin of those who wish to see tense relations between the two countries. Therefore it is essential that both the countries meticulously side step the land mines being laid by our common ill-wishers.