News Analysis |
A suicide bomber killed at least two people and wounded many more outside police headquarters in the port city of Chabahar in restive southeastern Iran on Thursday, according to a revised official toll. Chabahar lies in Sistan-Baluchistan province which has long been a flashpoint, with Baluchi separatists and Sunni Muslim militants carrying out cross-border attacks targeting the Shiite authorities.
“This terrorist act led to the martyrdom of two members of the police force,” the province’s deputy governor in charge of security, Mohammad Hadi Marashi, told state television. Chabahar city governor Rahmdel Bameri said earlier that four people were killed and many more wounded when the bomber blew up a car, but later revised the death toll to two.
Chabahar has a deep-water port on the Gulf of Oman and with Indian assistance Iran has been developing it as a major energy and freight hub between Central Asia and India, bypassing Pakistan.
“The explosion was very strong and broke the glass of many buildings close by,” Bameri told state television. Many nearby shop owners and civilian passers-by, including women and children, were severely wounded, he added.
Chabahar lies some 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of the Pakistan border and is home to a large, mainly Sunni Muslim ethnic Baluchi community which straddles the two countries. The number of assailants was not immediately clear.
“The terrorists tried to enter Chabahar police headquarters but they were prevented by the guards and they detonated the car bomb,” Marashi said without elaborating on how many assailants took part.
Chabahar has a deep-water port on the Gulf of Oman and with Indian assistance Iran has been developing it as a major energy and freight hub between Central Asia and India, bypassing Pakistan. Chabahar has also been in the news for it was the home base of Indian intelligence officer Kulbhushan Yadav who was arrested in Pakistan while engaged in promoting terrorism. The Pak-Iran border has been a rather safe spot for terror attacks and terrorist movements.
On 23 May 2016, the leader of the Afghan Taliban Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was killed in a US airstrike on the Pak-Afghan border after entering Pakistan from Iran. While Iran has not yet blamed Pakistan for officially backing anti-Iran militant groups and has cooperated in various anti-terror operations, there is a sense of cold conflict between Iran and Pakistan since the 1979 Khomeini Revolution.
Iran also has a cause for running sectarianism inside Pakistan. Pakistan has the largest Shia population per capita only after Iran and is an important country of the Muslim world.
Mainly because based on intelligence reports Iran is involved in backing some sectarian outfits inside Pakistan, who always played a negative role to import the Iranian theology inside the neighboring country, thus disturbing the balance and harmony. These outfits often turned violent and wreaked havoc throughout the country.
The most famous has been the Sipah-e-Muhammad, a Shia supremacist sectarian militant group infamous for killings of several Pakistani Sunni Muslims. Sipah-e Muhammad is a Shia militant organization established in 1993 by Maulana Abbas Yazdani who split from the pro-Iran Shia political group Tehreek-e-Jafria claiming to fight anti-Shia violence by Sunni sectarian groups while others assert that it is an Iranian proxy pursuing Iranian geopolitical interests within Pakistan. At the height of its power, it ran a virtual fiefdom in the town of Thokar Niaz Beg during the 1990s.
Iran provided training and materials to the Sipah-e-Muhammad and eventually, a safe haven for its members after successful counter-terror operations broke down the group. Its head Allama Ghulam Raza Naqvi passed away in Iran on 6 March 2016.
The Sipah-e-Muhammad seems to be in a period of a resurgence since 2012. It was found to be behind the target killings of several Islamic scholars belonging to the Deoband school of thought and also behind the murder of a Saudi diplomat and a grenade attack on the Saudi embassy. Some members arrested by LEAs in 2014 told that 200 militants of Sipah-e-Muhammad, trained from Iran and heavily armed, were hunting down members of their theological and political rivals.
Of course, Iranian interference in Pakistan is not limited to Sipah-e-Muhammad, recently Iran has been increasing its presence in the restive areas of Pakistan. Its interference in the rise of the Mahdi militia in the sectarian violence hit Kurram agency region, as well as the rise of the Mahdi militia in the beleaguered Hazara community of Balochistan.
The BLF has been provided safe havens, materials, and training by Iran in order to take out alleged anti-Iran elements in Pakistan’s Balochistan.
However, the latest most worrying aspect has been the use of Pakistani nationals as foreign fighters in many of the Iranian proxy wars in the Middle East like Iraq and Syria. A Shia militant group called the Liwa’ zaynabiyun (Zaynabiyun Brigade) has risen in Syria consisting exclusively of Pakistanis.
Fallen fighters of such groups are buried with full military honors in Iran and Syria. Thus far, there have been at least twenty funerals for Pakistani fighters in Syria, but there are no real estimates regarding Pakistani fatalities in Syria, and the actual number of those killed in action could be much greater the number of funerals documented.
Iran also has a cause for running sectarianism inside Pakistan. Pakistan has the largest Shia population per capita only after Iran and is an important country of the Muslim world. It is probable that Iranian sectarian desires could recreate the sectarian environment of Iraq and Syria in Pakistan.
Another militant group alleged to have ties with the Iranian establishment is the ethnonational Baloch terror group, the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF). Led by Dr. Allah Nazar, this group aims to separate Balochistan from Pakistan and aims to purify it of non-Baloch settlers. The BLF has been provided safe havens, materials, and training by Iran in order to take out alleged anti-Iran elements in Pakistan’s Balochistan.
In April 2017, Pakistani LEAs took a Karachi based gangster Uzair Baloch into custody. It was revealed that Uzair Baloch had deep ties with both Indian and Iranian agencies and Baloch had divulged information about the Armed Forces of Pakistan, including intelligence officials, and details of sensitive installations and offices.