Iranís Counter to Pakistani Terror

November 20, 2020 By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army

 

Akin to India and Afghanistan, Iran too has been victim of Pakistanís cross-border terrorism. For Iran, the situation has been aggravated because of institutionalised killings of Shia Muslims in Pakistan, as also in Afghanistan through Pakistan-backed Taliban, Haqqanis and the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP). Pakistani terrorist groups like Jundallah in league with the ISIS have been carrying out cross-border attacks in Iran. Pakistan has a 909-km border with Iran, begins at the Koh-i-Malik Salih Mountain and ends at Gwadar Bay in the Gulf of Oman. Matters have become worse with the China-backed Pakistani genocide in Balochistan. The ethnic Balochis who speak an Indo-Iranian language and are spread in Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, have been wanting a country of their own ever since. Baloch nationalism has been galvanised because of Pakistani genocide and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor since Balochis see their mineral wealth being plundered.

Pakistan has been a scene of sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shias. It is estimated that in the nearly 3,000 sectarian attacks, that have taken place to date, around 10,000 have lost their lives. Shia-Sunni violence in Pakistan flares up every year during Muharram, first month of Islamic lunar calendar, denoting anniversary of the Karbala Massacre in 680 AD. Tehran has long been accusing Islamabad of not acting against militant groups, which have carried out numerous terrorist attacks in Iranís bordering province of Sistan-Balochistan which is home to over 1.5 million Balochi people comprising two percent of Iran's population. Most of the principal Balochi tribes in Iran border Pakistan or Afghanistan.

In May 2017, Iran warned Pakistan that it would hit terrorist safe havens inside that country if the government does not confront militants who carry out cross-border attacks. 10 Iranian border guards were killed by militants in April 2017 who Iran said were shot by Jaish ul-Adl (Sunni militant group) using long-range guns fired from inside Pakistan. Major-General Mohammad Baqeri, the Chief of Iranian Armed Forces, said the enemies were trying to make up for their failures through hiring terrorists to target Iran's borders or interests. He said the method was that of "cowardly thieves and bandits" and would only bring the enemies "humiliation and ignominy." Jaish ul-Adl terrorist group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement. The group had also claimed responsibility for attacks that killed eight Iranian border guards in April 2015 and 14 border guards in October 2013.

In February 2019, a suicide bomber killed 27 members of Iranís elite Revolutionary Guards in SistanĖBalochistan. Jaish al Adl claimed responsibility for that attack. Iranian officials said the attackers operated from safe havens in Pakistan and have repeatedly called on the neighboring country to crack down on them. Tehran has long alleged that anti-Iranian Sunni extremists use hideouts in the Pakistani border province of Balochistan for plotting terrorism against Iran. Iran has accused Pakistan of supporting Baloch insurgent groups and threatened to attack their bases if Islamabad does not confront them. Pakistan in turn accuses Iranian intelligence for forging links with the Baloch Raji Aajoi Saangar (BRAS) umbrella group of Baloch liberation fighters, which would be true as quid-pro-quo to Pakistani cross-border terrorism.

The killing of General Qassem Soleimani, Commander of Iranís Quds Force of the Iranian Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) in a US drone strike at Baghdad International Airport, Iraq in the beginning of 2020 has not really helped Pakistan. Soleimaniís successor, General Ismail Qaani is focused on Iranís border with Pakistan Ė both terrorism and movement of drug cartels in the border region. For long Pakistan has benefited from Saudi Arabia-Iran and US-Iran enmity. However, geopolitical changes are occurring. Backed by China, Pakistan is pushing Turkey to replace Saudi Arabia to the top of Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) and Saudi Arabiaís distaste for Pakistan is palpable. As for US-Iran relationship, Joe Biden as the 46th POTUS is likely to go for thaw and may even revive the Iran Nuclear Deal even as Donald Trump wants to bomb Iran before he hands over Americaís reins to Biden.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan recently established a triangular radical relationship with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (who dreams of restoring the erstwhile Ottoman Empire and anoint himself its Caliph) and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahatir Bin Mohamad (since retired) who tweeted in October 2020: ďMuslims have a right to be angry and to kill millions of French people for the massacres of the pastĒ. Imran perhaps wanted to divert from uprisings of Balochis, Sindhis and Pashtuns within Pakistan, in addition to his servility to the army chief and joint movement of opposition parties against the mess he presides upon.

Turkish media has now warned Pakistan that the Iran-backed Zainabiyoun Brigade whose armed membership reportedly is around 5,000 consists of Afghani and Pakistani Shias can undertake attacks in Pakistan. The Zainabiyoun Brigade is reportedly linked to Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and Quds Force. Members the Zainabiyoun Brigade have a lot of fighting experience in Syria and are likely to pose a threat to Pakistanís national security in the future. To the glee of China-Pakistan, withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan will enable greater influence in that country, especially since Joe Biden is likely to adopt a softer approach towards China compared to Donald Trump. However, if Pakistan continues to indulge in cross-border attacks against Iran, as also through its proxies across the Afghan-Iran border, Iran will definitely retaliate at the same level with greater force. Iran has considerable potential at the sub-conventional level and the political will to use it. For starters the Zainabiyoun Brigade can commence operating in conjunction BRAS. It is high time Pakistan gets the taste of its own medicine.