Iran suicide attack fuels tensions with Pakistan
By Susenjit Guha
By Susenjit Guha
A deadly suicide bomb attack in Iran's Sistan-Baluchestan province, near the Pakistan border, has triggered another round of the blame game with Pakistan, the alleged mastermind and villain. The attack last Sunday killed 42 people, including five commanders of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard.
The incident makes it even more difficult for the United States to kick start negotiations with Iran. Washington is seen as placating, appeasing and buying Pakistan to help fight its war on terror in Afghanistan. Regional players consider Pakistan the epicenter of the very terrorism the United States purports to be fighting.
Iran’s Fars News Agency quoted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying that security agents in Pakistan had cooperated with militants in Sunday's attack. "We were informed that some security agents in Pakistan are cooperating with the main elements of this terrorist incident. We regard it as our right to demand these criminals from them," Ahmadinejad said, without giving details. He also reportedly told Pakistan not to waste time cooperating with Iran in apprehending the perpetrators.
This type of accusation is not new. In the past, Iran has accused Pakistan of harboring members of the Sunni insurgent group Jundallah, or the People's Resistance Movement of Iran. Based in the Pakistani province of Balochistan, the group claims to be fighting for the rights of Sunni Muslims in Iran. According to Iranian media, Jundallah has claimed responsibility for Sunday's bombing.
India and Afghanistan have also accused Pakistan of harboring terror groups that cause mayhem in their nations.
Pakistan’s English language daily, Dawn, in June quoted Iran’s Fars News Agency on comments by General Hassan Firouzabadi, chief of Iran’s armed forces, saying Iran had located the roots of Jundallah and had passed on the information to the Pakistani government.
Despite the intelligence passed to Pakistan, attacks in Iran have continued. Jundallah has claimed responsibility for close to a dozen attacks in Iran, including one at a mosque in the city of Zahedan. The group’s method is simple – create terror in Iran and then cross over to neighboring Pakistan. According to the article in Dawn, Tehran had warned Pakistan to take action against the terrorists; otherwise it would be forced to employ military forces to track and hunt them down.
Like the terror groups allegedly nurtured in Pakistan to destabilize India, Jundallah had the blessings of both the Taliban and Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, and shifted loyalties between the two while creating unrest in Iran.
After the Sunday attack, Iranian officials immediately summoned a Tehran-based senior Pakistani diplomat to inform him they had evidence of the attackers’ links to Pakistan and were sealing the border between the two countries. Again, the demands and accusations are not new.
India initially asked Pakistan to hand over the perpetrators of last year’s terror attacks on Mumbai, in which nearly 200 innocent lives were lost. Later it provided evidence and demanded that Pakistan arrest them and put them on trial so justice would be done. But the evidence from India was stonewalled, and Pakistan said its courts could not find enough evidence to convict the alleged masterminds.
Pakistan surely will not track down the perpetrators that killed Iran’s Revolutionary Guard commanders. And the problem does not end there. Operating from Pakistan’s Balochistan province, Jundallah is alleged to also have a presence in Pakistan’s Punjab province.
Pakistani analysts believe Punjab is a fertile recruiting ground for the local Taliban, al-Qaida, and the country’s armed forces. Pakistan’s civil society is worried about the rogue elements in Pakistan’s army and the ISI that have natural loyalties to terrorists and terror groups.
According to Pakistani media, Jundallah is believed to have links with another anti-Shiite Punjab-based group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, as well as the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaida. Their mandate to foment terror is clearly demarcated. Names do not matter; members of such groups hide under the cloak of humanitarian organizations and flip-flop from one to another when the going gets tough.
The main objective and the modus operandi of these terror groups are still fuzzy, but the danger is clear and present. This was evident in the attack on the Pakistani armed forces base in the city of Rawalpindi last week.. Early this year the Long War Journal, a blog on U.S. security, reported that the al-Qaida top brass were toying with the idea of spreading jihad to neighboring countries including Iran.
But Sunday’s suicide attack in Iran could place the United States on rough ground. The Iranian armed forces believe that Jundallah is the creation of the United States and Britain, with the purpose of weakening Iran. And like most anti-U.S. tirades, this too might be believed by many Iranians, making it difficult for U.S. President Barack Obama to enlist Iran in the war on terror in Afghanistan.
It may also be difficult for the United States to explain to Iran that its planned shipment of F-16 combat aircraft to Pakistan is appeasement for Islamabad accepting the conditions in a U.S. aid bill that demands the government maintain control over the military.
After all, F-16’s would not be used by Pakistan’s armed forces to fight al-Qaida and the Taliban in Waziristan or to deal with Jundallah. Or would they?