Jan Achakzai |
As Prime Minister Imran Khan embarks on his two-day visit to Iran, let us debunk the old myth of Pakistan’s foreign policy: It can walk a tightrope between Iran and Saudi Arabia’s ambitions and keep the alliances both warm and lucrative, respectively. This has changed as Islamabad has now openly blamed and said that Tehran has crossed the national security redline.
Iran’s Sponsorship of Proxy Warfare
Iran’s sponsorship of proxy warfare and its nexus with India is now not a mere conjecture but events of the recent past provide evidence that Tehran has adopted the same strategic posture towards Pakistan as it has towards other neighbours from Iraq, Afghanistan to far-off Lebanon and Yemen, leveraging its sub-conventional capabilities.
No-nonsense Approach Needed
The latest behaviour of Tehran behoves on Pakistan to adopt a no-nonsense approach towards Iran from now on.
- Starting from Balochistan, conglomerates of ethnic insurgents operate out of Iran and as Pakistan’s Foreign Office said, “active training camps [are] being maintained in Iran” to destabilize Balochistan. The latest incident of Ormara points to ethnic militants’ handlers with robust capability for target selection, surveillance, logistics, money, training ammunition and succor provided in the sanctuary within the Iranian territory. The selection of a target the way it was done in Ormara needs sophisticated target selection and spotting which can hardly come from foot-soldier-militants. These militants throng Iranian camps to target the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Gwadar port. After the announcement of Saudi Arabia’s proposed investment in Balochistan to expand on its share of the current 13 percent oil export to China, Tehran abhors to contemplate losing Chinese market to the KSA- its arch-rival—Iran being the second largest oil exporter to China.
- Tehran actively recruited Pakistani youth to use them in Syria as a mercenary force against the US and its coalition partners. They are battle hardened and like Afghan, Iraqi and Lebanese mercenaries constitute the core of the security ring of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. “Al-Zainabiyoun force” has been deployed in Pakistan’s Sindh province, as per reports worryingly suggesting that they are well-versed in sabotage and terrorism. They are scattered from Sukkur to Karachi and are keeping an eye on the movements of the security forces. After the defeat of the ISIS, many militants will likely return to Pakistan and their number is estimated to be around 2,000.
- The latest incident of Omara comes on the heels of India’s convergence with Tehran on the “narrative of terrorism”. Recently Tehran warned Islamabad of dire consequences as a “sponsor of terrorism” after 10 of its security personnel were kidnapped in the no man’s landon Iran-Pakistan and Afghanistan border, right before Pulwama incident. In other words, Tehran has adopted Indian narrative against Pakistan.
- Tehran’s Indian nexus in the kinetic sphere is twofold: first is the Chabahar sanctuary for the RAW operatives; a brigadier-level officer leads terror networks across Balochistan as per security institutions’ reports. Smugglers and gangs are being used to provide logistics, money to militants for their operations in Balochistan. Secondly, soon after Pulwama attack, India persuaded Tehran to leverage its proxy capabilities mainly of the Al-Zainabiyoun force to help with sabotage and intelligence on Pakistani troops movements across Sindh in return for propping of Iranian currency.
- In the recent example, Tehran used Lyari gangs: Uzair Baloch’s Iranian passport is a case in point.
- Tehran ignores heavy footprints of India’s RAW in its border region as proved by Islamabad smashing the Kulbubshan Yadhav network which was operating from Chabahar Port as well.
- Iran has been trying to create a balance against Pakistan in Afghanistan: its support for rival Taliban group in Afghanistan is aimed at reducing Pakistan’s leverage on the Taliban and bringing Afghanistan in its own sphere of influence what it calls the “heart of the Persian world” while Tehran being the “Centre of Persian civilization”.
- Iran also seeks to dislodge Pakistan from Afghanistan with the help of India via Chabahar port circumventing Karachi and Gwadar as transit entry points for Kabul.
- Whereas Tehran wants to limit Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan, it is trying to enhance India’s presence there. It is very strange that Iran never acknowledged Afghanistan being used by India against Pakistan when India’s RAW was operating close to the Afghan-Iran border to promote terrorism in Balochistan.
- Tehran has also forged strategic convergence with India allowing the use of its ports to attack Pakistan in case Delhi goes to war with Islamabad -something Pakistan can no longer ignore as Delhi develops more residence in testing Pakistani resolve not to question its deterrence.
- It is using other proxy groups to limit Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan and increase India’s presence there.
- By forging a closed nexus with India in the kinetic sphere and copy-pasting regional posture against Pakistan, which it adopted towards weak states in the region, it is clear that Tehran wants to bring Pakistan down to its knees on the negotiating table and force its hands on granting concessions.
The above logic suggests that Iran has not supplanted India as a leading terrorism sponsor in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, but Tehran has started treating Pakistan more with hostile intent manipulating Islamabad’s casus belli—fault lines just like India has been doing.
What needs to be done?
Pakistan’s policy elite need to rethink their conventional approach towards Iran and start a serious discourse along the following lines:
a. Pakistan should solicit the US interests on Iran from now onwards;
b. designate Tehran as a subject of common “concern”;
c. stop as balancer versus Saudi Arabia;
d. signal pulling levers in Afghanistan against Iran to reduce its presence and clearly, manifest its legitimate interests in the country; and,
e. start drilling in Balochistan border region disregarding understanding with the former king, the Shah of Iran.
Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst, a politician from Balochistan, and ex-advisor to the Balochistan Government on media and strategic communication. He remained associated with BBC World Service. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.