A day after Islamabad urged Tehran to act against armed groups behind the killings in Pakistan’s Balochistan province earlier this week, Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan left on a two-day official visit to Iran.
Tense Border Security Issues Between Pakistan & Iran
Ties between Iran and Pakistan have been strained in recent months, with both sides accusing each other of not doing enough to stamp out armed groups allegedly sheltering across the border.
A new umbrella group BRAS, representing various armed groups operating in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province claimed responsibility for an attack last week in the Buzi Top area. Reportedly fourteen passengers (Pakistan Navy personnel) were selectively picked out, forcibly offloaded from the bus and then shot dead by this group on the Makran Coastal Highway in Ormara, Balochistan.
The wordings of the letter written to the Iranian embassy by MoFA on Friday, further reveal the tense situation prevailing between the two neighbors.
Tehran too has stepped up security along its long border with Pakistan after a suicide bomber killed 27 members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard in mid-February in southeastern Iran, with Iranian officials saying the attackers were based inside Pakistan. Brigadier-General Mohammad Pakpour said that the suicide bomber – Hafiz Mohammad Ali along with two other members of the cell behind the attack were also Pakistani nationals.
Tehran says the Sunni group Jaish al-Adl operates mostly out of bases in Pakistan and has repeatedly blamed Pakistan for sheltering individuals connected with attacks in the countries border areas.
Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi told Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency that Iran faced threats from “a number of hostile intelligence services who work in tandem with these groups”. He had also warned of a harsh response.
Without further elaboration, he said foreign intelligence services are supporting “anti-Islamic Revolution” terrorist groups in full force. Alavi’s comments echoed previous remarks made by former commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and that of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Purpose of Imran Khan’s visit
It is important to mention that “border security being the key issue” between the two states, no Pakistani intelligence official is accompanying the Pakistani premier. According to a press release by the Prime Minister’s Office, he is accompanied by Minister for Human Rights, Dr Shireen Mazari; Minister for Maritime Affairs, Syed Ali Haider Zaidi; Adviser to PM on Commerce, Abdul Razak Dawood; Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development, Sayed Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari; Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Health Services, Dr Zafarullah Mirza; and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Petroleum, Nadeem Baber.
Therefore the agenda of this “forced upon” visit is unclear. Please note that Imran was initially scheduled to visit Iran in January, but the visit was postponed at the eleventh hour because of unexplained reasons. However, the following month in February, the Saudi Prince was given a grand welcome in Pakistan.
Out of the two-day visit 21-22 Apr, Imran Khan has already spent one day in Mashhad. He is meeting Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani today. It is seen that the economically embattled Pakistani government is leaving no stone unturned to collect funds. Pakistan was gifted $6 bn by Saudi Arabia (Iran’s rival) in February this year and there are rumors of it joining the anti-Iran camp in return of this financial aid. Sources in Pakistan Ministry reveal that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is miffed with Pakistan’s “double play” and has therefore “summoned” Imran Khan to Tehran under the garb of bilateral talks.
Clearly, Pakistan and Iran want to maintain equilibrium and there is nothing to be wary of as of now. It is seen that the Pakistan Army has been drawing closer to Iran under its new chief General Qamar Bajwa. However, Iranian media repeatedly reporting it as “Pakistan keen to enhance ties with Iran” could be a measured move to highlight Pakistan’s desperate measures to woo Iran after fallout with the US.
Should Iran respond to Pakistan’s complaint negatively and make its traditional allegations that Pakistan is being motivated by ‘Saudi money’ as opposed to security concerns, things may head south rapidly for Pakistan-Iran relations. Iran is aware of Pakistan’s chameleon acts and therefore it will be interesting to see what comes out of this visit by the premiere of an opportunist state.
22 Apr 19/ Monday Written by Afsana