MOST recently, Pak-Iranian border has once again become hot topic in the regional as well as in the international media. Deteriorating law and order situation at Pak-Iran border forced General Qamar Javed Bajwa to call his Iranian counterpart Chief of the Armed Forces Major General Bagheri and expressed his serious concern over recent terrorist attack on Pakistan’s security forces resulting in martyrdom of six personnel near Pak-Iran border.
General Bajwa asked Tehran to tighten its borders in a bid to curb terrorist attacks on Pakistani security forces by militants allegedly operating from Iran. He had called Gen Baqeri to seek action against Baloch separatists, who have allegedly taken up refuge on Iranian soil. The call was made against the backdrop of Friday attack on a Frontier Corps patrol in restive Balochistan in which six troops were martyred.
The Baloch Liberation Army has claimed responsibility for the attack. The attack, which took place about 14 km from the Iranian border, was claimed by the banned Baloch Liberation Army. The Pak-Iran 900-km border begins at the Koh-i-Malik Salih mountains and ends at Gwadar Bay in the Gulf of Oman which has its strategic importance too and such frequent terrorist attacks may not be good omen for the development of blue economy in the region.
According to Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) during his telephonic tête-à-tête with Iranian Chief of Armed Forces, diverse matters relating to regional peace, border security, fencing, improvement of border terminals and the killing of Pakistani security personnel near the Pakistan-Iranian border were thoroughly discussed.
While talking to his Iran counterpart Gen Bagheri the COAS Bajwa highlighted the importance of fencing the border and stressed the need to have enhanced mutual bilateral cooperation to ensure border security and stem smuggling activity. He viewed that all preemptive measures should be taken to combat against terrorists and narcotic traffickers to use porous borders. Both big brasses of Pakistan and Iran armed forces resolved to enhance security measures on either side of the border,” the ISPR said. The COAS Bajwa reiterated the country’s commitment for regional peace and stability based on mutual respect, non-interference and equality.
In this connection, Pakistan’s Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) on April 29 approved three billion rupees ($18.6 million) in additional funds for the fencing of its border with Iran. The Senate of Pakistan was informed by the Frontier Constabulary of Balochistan on May 10 last year that the country had started fencing certain areas of the border which were hotspots for smuggling and militant movement.
According to the ISPR, both the Generals resolved to enhance security measures on either side of the border. Moreover, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson said, “The work on the Pak-Iran border fencing has been underway for the last few months for effective border management and to curb smuggling and militant activities”. The need for border fencing was increased after the heavy presence of Indians in Chabahar, which resulted in an increase in insurgent activities as they have training camps there.
Moreover, arrest of Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav on charges of terrorism and spying for India’s intelligence agency RAW constrained the army establishment of the country to take diversified but integrated measures to foil the clandestine networking of RAW and start fencing of the Pak-Iran border to stop infiltrations. In the past, unfortunately, Iran used to accuse Pakistan for infiltration of Jandullah from its side which was effectively eliminated by armed forces of Pakistan, but Iran has not yet controlled insurgents and militants from using its soil for terrorist activities inside Pakistan.
Ironically, Iranian official newswire Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) disseminated its own version by saying that the two Generals discussed military developments, security of borders and the Coronavirus crisis. Gen Bajwa, IRNA reported, “urged the exchange of expert delegations to maintain border security and prevent terrorist moves on common borders”. He also informed the Iranian commander about the measures being taken by the Pakistan Government to prevent unauthorised cross-border movement. Pakistan and Iran share over 900 km-long border, which is plague-ridden with criminal gangs, paddlers, militants and human traffickers.
Terrorist groups operating along the border have in the past carried out several attacks. Therefore, border security has for long remained a major irritant in bilateral ties. The terrorist groups based near the border have existed because of deep mistrust between the two countries which needs to be rectified as soon as possible. The two countries over the past few years, have however, cooperated extensively in improving border security by undertaking several measures, including deployment of additional troops.
General Bajwa had in his maiden visit to Iran in 2017 as the army chief called the Pakistan-Iran border the border of peace and friendship and vowed closer cooperation with Tehran to ensure security in the region. To show his serious intentions, Prime Minister Imran Khan while visiting Tehran in April last year agreed to the setting up of a joint rapid reaction force for curbing activities of terrorist groups along the porous border.
Pakistani security agencies are of the opinion that over the past few years Iranian intelligence services have established ties with Baloch separatists to counter Iranian militants, who are allegedly having sanctuaries in border areas of both the countries. This has widened trust deficit between the two countries, making ethnic Baloch insurgencies stronger.
Most recently, the US State Department has declared the Balochistan Liberation Army a global terrorist organization. In a video message released on the US Central Command’s (CENTCOM) Urdu official Twitter account, the spokesman said that important announcements were being made to curb terrorist activities. The spokesman said the BLA had claimed responsibility for terrorist acts against Pakistani security agencies and citizens, including attacks on the Chinese Consulate in Karachi and the Pearl Continental Hotel in Gwadar. The United States supports the security and stability of Pakistan and South Asia.
Sistan Balochistan province in Iran is sparsely populated and undeveloped, which has led to nationalist movements and security concerns that had once been a source of Pakistan-Iran cooperation. Today, Pakistan is battling the same Baloch nationalism. While Pakistan and Iran historically had shared interests in combating militant groups existed in their border areas today the region has become a space where cross-border militancy can easily aggravate tension.
Global networking of radical forces and enemies of humanity geared up their notorious activities during the ongoing human saga in shape of COVID-19. Regional defence experts and strategists are of the opinion that all the countries should eschew the growth of terrorist sanctuaries and stay away from all kinds of proxies to maintain regional peace and harmony.
The writer is Director, Geopolitics/Economics Member Board of Experts, CGSS.