Why Ups and Downs in Pak-Iranian Relations?

By Sajjad Shaukat

Since the beginning of diplomatic relations, there have been many ups and downs in Pak-Iranian relations. Iran was the first country to recognize Pakistan after it gained independence in 1947. Both the neighbouring countries’ ties remained cordial as well as cold over a number of issues. Besides, some foreign power such as the US, India and Israel manipulated the misunderstanding between Pakistan and Iran in order to obtain the Zionist-Israeli agenda.

Pakistan has a 909 km border with Iran, located between Pakistan’s province of Balochistan and Iranian province of Sistan-Balochistan. In the recent years, illegal border-crossing resulted into cold relationship between the two countries.

In March, this year, the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif visited Pakistan and helped to re-establish diplomatic and security cooperation between the two countries over border management.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s visit to Islamabad came at a time, when relations between the two countries were more troubled than usual. Tehran has long been accusing the infiltration of militants from the Pakistani side of the border, and just a day before Zarif’s trip, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards killed two suicide bombers near the border. In the recent times, 10 Iranian border guards were killed by the militants in Mirjaveh, Sistan-Balochistan.

The top Iranian military commander threatened to launch cross-border attacks inside Pakistan against the so-called militant safe havens. Major General Mohammad Baqeri’s extraordinary comments have elicited a sharp reaction from Islamabad—summoning to the Foreign Office of Iranian Ambassador Mehdi Honardoost regarding accusations and recriminations between the two states.

The ties between the two countries further deteriorated in June, 2017, when an Iranian drone was shot down by a Pakistan Air Force JF-17 Thunder fighter jet in the country’s Balochistan province.

Pakistan has already shared the information about striking down of this drone with the Iranian authorities indicating that the drone was struck down by our security forces, as it was unmarked and there was no prior information on its flight. This was the second Iranian drone to be shot down within twenty four hours.

Pak-Iranian relations had already become tense after Pakistan’s security forces arrested Indian spy Kulbhushan Yadhav on March 3, 2016.

Notably, Indian role in Pakistan became naked after the arrest of Kulbhushan Yadav. In a video statement, Kulbhushan openly admitted that he was the serving agent of Indian RAW in Balochistan province, and during his stay, he contacted various Baloch separatist leaders and insurgents, including Dr Allah Nazar Baloch to execute the task to damage the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project (CPEC). Yadav confessed that he spied for India and was “assigned with the task to create unrest in Karachi and Balolchitan…to destabilize Pakistan…he was captured, while heading Iran.” He also revealed that he was funding Baloch separatists along with other terrorists.

In this context, while addressing a joint press conference with the then Federal Minister for Information Pervaiz Rasheed, the then Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Lt. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa said on March 29, 2016, “Kulbushan Yadav’s arrest is a rare case that does not happen very often.” He disclosed that Yadav was an active officer of the Indian Navy prior to his joining RAW. He also served as a scrap dealer and had a jewelry business in Chahbahar, Iran, after he joined RAW in 2013.

During the visit of the Iranian President Hasan Rouhani in Pakistan on March 31, 2016, Pakistan’s the former Chief of Army Staff Gen. Raheel Sharif had raised the issue of Kulbushan Yadav with him—use of Iranian soil by India’s RAW to stoke instability in Balochistan and Karachi. In this respect, some misunderstanding was created by some media reports which misinterpreted the news by indicating that perhaps, Gen. Raheel has blamed Tehran for RAW activities in Pakistan.

A day after Islamabad formally sent a six-point letter, addressed to Iranian Ambassador in Islamabad, Mehdi Honardoost, asked Tehran “to immediately arrest and hand over an individual identified as Rakesh, alias Rizwan, for interrogation; verify activities of Kulbhushan Jadhav along with records of visits to Iran; provide a record of his stay in Iran including cities visited and the duration of these visits; provide a record of people he interacted with and purpose of these interactions; share details of RAW networks on Iranian soil and share any other details related to the matter”.

Regarding the arrest of Jadhav, hinting towards the US, India and some foreign powers, including some internal entities of Pakistan, in a statement, the spokesman of the Iranian Embassy in Islamabad, Abbas Badrifar slammed “certain elements…unhappy over promotion of ties between the two Islamic countries…are trying in various ways, including the spreading of undignified and sometimes offensive contents, to fade out the significant achievements during the visit of Iranian President Rouhani to Pakistan.”

While denouncing media reports, the then Minister for Interior Affairs Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan clarified on April 2, 2016 that “Iran is not involved in any anti-state activities in Pakistan…all sections of Pakistani society are unanimous in their support for stronger Pak-Iran relations.” In response, Iranian ambassador called on Interior Minister Nisar to assure his country’s full support in stemming incursion of Indian spies into Pakistani territory, using Iranian soil.

Being a neighbouring and brotherly country, Pakistan always respects Iran’s sovereignty, system of governance and its socio-political developments. But, some external elements misguide Iran through false propaganda by exploiting various terror-incidents which took place inside Iran, especially its province of Iranian Sistan-Baluchistan and Pakistan’s province of Balochistan.

It could be judged from the incident of October 25, 2013, when 14 Iranian border guards lost their lives and six other in a shoot-out with terrorists in the border region of Saravan in the province of Sistan-Baluchestan. In that regard, Iranian lawmakers accused that the US and Pakistani intelligence services were responsible for the deadly attack. On the other side, Islamabad denied the charges as baseless and assured that that the country would investigate the issue and would fully cooperate with Iranian officials in arresting and handing the terrorists.

It is notable that the US-led Indo-Israeli overt and covert links are part of a dangerous strategic game being played in South Asia and other Islamic countries. In the aftermath of 9/11, as to how this strategic game is being played can be judged from some developments. For example, on October 18, 2009, a deadliest suicide attack killed dozens of officers, including the deputy commander for the Revolutionary Guards, Brigadier General Nour Ali Shoushtari and the provincial commander, Brigadier Rajab Ali Mohammadzadeh in the Sistan-Baluchistan. Jundullah (God’s soldiers), a Sunni militant group, which is pro-active against the Iranians, had claimed responsibility for the incident.

The Revolutionary Guard released a statement after the attack, revealing that there was “no doubt that this violent and inhumane act was part of the strategy of foreigners and enemies of the regime.” Afterwards, Iran directly accused America and Britain for their patronage and funding of such type of terrorist attacks for creating instability within Iran. Parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani blamed the US, saying, “We consider the recent terrorist attack to be the result of the US action. This is the sign of America’s animosity against our country.”

In this connection, the former Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Shah Mehmood Qureshi had stated, “It is obvious that the same forces which are working in Pakistani Balochistan are also working in Iranian Sistan.” While, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei had indicated, “The bloody actions being committed in Iraq, Pakistan and Iran are aimed at creating a division between the Shias and Sunnis…those who carry out these terrorist actions are directly or indirectly foreign agents.”

It of particular attention that America, India and Israel have been backing the Baloch separatists of Pakistan through their secret agencies CIA, RAW and Mossad respectively, as in the recent years, they had been conducting a perennial wave of subversive acts such as destruction of gas pipelines, attacks on the government buildings and murder of political leaders. They are covertly supporting the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and Baloch nationalist leaders who have been fighting for secession of the province.

As regards Jundullah, in past few years, the group has conducted multiple terrorist activities like kidnapping and killing of a number of Iranian nationals, including suicide attacks in Pakistan’s province of Balochistan and that of Iran. On many occasions, BLA and Jundullah claimed responsibility for the terrorist acts.

Online reliable sources suggest that Jundullah is a small group which does not have potential to inflict more than small assaults on security forces of Pakistan and Iran. Like BLA, this militant group is also being assisted by CIA, RAW and Mossad. Both BLA and Jundullah have links with each other. And their militants are getting arms and ammunition from Afghanistan where US-led India and Israel have established their secret network not only to create lawlessness in Pakistan and Iran, but also to sabotage good relationship of these countries. Notably, Afghanistan shares a common border with Pakistan and Iran, so it has become easy for these external elements to achieve their sinister anti-Pak-Iranian aims.

It is noteworthy that these foreign-supported insurgent outfits have targeted the Shias of the Hazara community in Balochistan. In February, 2013, a nationwide demonstrators, strikes and sit-in protests by the Shias enveloped various cities and towns of Pakistan for four days in reaction to the deadly suicide attack which killed more than 100 persons of the Hazara Shias in Quetta at Kirani Road, Hazara Town, on February 17, 2013. Even, leaders of the Sunni political and religious parties strongly condemned the incident, expressing solidarity with the Hazara community. A similar sort of protest and rallies took place, after suicide bombers killed 92 people of the Shias of the Haza community in Quetta on January 10, 2013.

Similarly, angered at the killing of two Hazara men on April 28, this year, the members of the Hazara community staged a protest in Quetta against the unabated killings of members of their community.

A report released by National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) in March, 2018, stated that 509 members of Hazara community were killed and 627 injured in various incidents of terrorism in Quetta during the last five years.

Nevertheless, CIA, Mossad and RAW are assisting the militant groups of both Shias and Sunnis so as to create differences between Islamabad and Tehran.

It is mentionable that Pakistan has been made a theatre of Shia-Sunni proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. In the recent past, an alliance of the 39 Sunni countries led by Saudi Arabia is clearly anti-Iran. But, Islamabad has refused to be dragged into taking sides. Instead, Islamabad has offered its mediatory services to defuse tensions between Riyadh and Tehran. Pakistan has also refused to participate in the Saudi-led airstrikes on Yemen.

In the recent past, Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s visit was the first by a Pakistan Army chief to Iran for over two decades. He met the top Iranian leaders, both civil and military, ranging from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to the Chief of General Staff, General Mohammad Bagheri and Maj-Gen Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

During the visit, General Bajwa made it clear that Pakistan wanted to expand its ties with Iran in all spheres, particularly military and defence cooperation. He pointed out that they had defence cooperation in the past and this could be revived and strengthened. He also highlighted the steps taken by Pakistan to improve security along the Pak-Iran border, including the deployment of additional troops, to tackle militants, criminals and drug-traffickers operating in the border areas.

Pakistan is keen to cooperate with Iran in preventing infiltration of militants from its Balochistan province to Iran’s Sistan-Balochistan province and expect Iranians to stop firing across the border into Pakistani territory.

Meanwhile, Iran’s Minister of Road and Urban Development Abbas Akhundi, leading a high-ranking delegation, arrived in Pakistan on April 12, 2018 on a three-day official visit for talks with the country’s officials. He also visited Karachi Port Trust (KPT). Akhoundi also showed interest in transshipment cargo handling, and stated that Iran is keen to work with Pakistan for interconnection linkage between Karachi Port and Bandar Abbas as well as the development of tourism and facilitation of ‘zaireen’ (religious pilgrims). He also expressed keen interest in exploring avenues available under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Now, the American President Donald Trump has withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal and is following war-mongering diplomacy against Tehran, while Israel is also doing the same against Iran. Hence, Iran could abandon the US-backed India-Afghanistan Chabahar project and could join the CPEC project.

Nonetheless, miscreants are operating on both sides of the Iran-Pakistan border and are engaged in cross-border terrorism leading to apprehensions between both the countries, which are being created by CIA, RAW and Mossad.

Therefore, Iran and Pakistan need to form a joint force to check the infiltration of the militants across the border. Pakistan has already deployed its armed forces along its side of the border, which are successfully preventing the incursion of terrorists and criminals. Sharing of information and adoption of a joint mechanism in relation to the border-management would not only stop incursion, but could also eradicate any misunderstanding between Pakistan and Iran whose relations have gone through many ups and downs.

Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations

Email: sajjad_logic_pak@hotmail.com

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