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Saturday, 21 March 2009

Pakistan's Jundullah and the plaint from Iran

The plaint from Iran...

The Iranian ambassador to Pakistan, Mr Mashallah Shakeri, has complained about the activities inside Iran of a terrorist organisation called Jundullah that is reportedly located inside Pakistan’s Balochistan province. The organisation has appeared a number of times in the news. It has kidnapped and killed several Iranian border security personnel. The organisation ostensibly represents the Baloch nationality inside Iran that is allegedly disaffected with the Tehran government. The Iranian diplomat who disappeared in Peshawar last year is said by some to have been kidnapped by Jundullah. Some people think that Jundullah is funded by the US as a part of its policy to encircle Iran and put pressure on it.

Pakistan has always disavowed any link to Jundullah. It denies that it is in any way a part of the Baloch insurgency in Iranian Balochistan. In June last year, Pakistan handed over four Iranian nationals to Iranian authorities to end the dispute raging over “the presence of an Iranian terrorist organisation operating out of Balochistan”. The important man handed over was Abdulhamid Rigi who had been detained in a Quetta jail. He was the brother of the Jundullah chief, Abdulmalek Rigi, who leads the organisation that says it was formed to “protest the rights” of the Baloch in the Iranian Balochistan-Sistan region. The Rigis are opposing Iranian forces trying to wipe out the smuggling of narcotics in what is the most notorious highway of human smuggling too.

Writers in Pakistan, instead of focusing on the background of the organisation, have concentrated on the leaks coming from Washington that America may be behind Jundullah. This tends to simplify the issue but it also puts Pakistan on the spot for allowing the US to do mischief against Iran from its soil. Yet, there are other mysterious pieces of the jigsaw that don’t seem to fit. The Iranian commercial attaché, Mr Hashmatullah, kidnapped from near Peshawar last year has not so far been recovered. But he has been kidnapped not by Jundullah, but by the Taliban because Baitullah Mehsud needs big money to run his war against Pakistan.

In February this year the police raided a locality in Karachi to retrieve the Iranian diplomat alive. In the battle that ensued, two policemen died while 35 men belonging to the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other banned religious outfits such as Lashkar-e Jhangvi were arrested. The Iranian diplomat is still missing. This takes us in the direction of Iran’s other beef with Pakistan: the tolerance of terrorists who kidnap diplomats as their side-business. Not only that, Iran is also bothered about what the terrorists do to the Shia of the tribal areas, although Iran has not complained officially about that.

Reported in Nawa-e-Waqt (February 18, 2009), a crowd of youth attacked Pakistan’s embassy in Tehran, protesting the killing of Shia people in Parachinar in the Kurram Agency of the tribal areas of Pakistan. The crowd desecrated the Pakistani flag, broke windowpanes and shouted slogans against America. The Shia are under siege in Parachinar for the last two years.

This means that Iran is sceptical about Pakistan’s policy of appeasement and “talks” towards the Taliban. It has tasted the sharp edge of Taliban hostility when it nearly went to war with the Taliban government in 1998 after what is known as the massacre of Mazar-e-Sharif in which some elements of the Pakistani jihadi militias captured Iranian consulate officials and handed them over to the Taliban for beheading. In fact, Iran’s opposition to the Sunni fanatics of the Taliban and Al Qaeda puts Iran on the same strategic track as the United States, and this could be one of the planks of US-Iran dialogue if President Obama’s “soft” policy towards Iran makes headway.

The people of Pakistan are not sectarian. The founder of Pakistan was politically secular; so is the present president of Pakistan. But both are Shias by faith. Iran and Pakistan are arrayed against the terrorists that are trying to create havoc on their territories. The prospects of cooperation against terror should therefore be bright between the two. If they are not, Pakistan needs to rectify the situation. (Daily Times)

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