EDITORIAL: Jundallah and relations with Iran
On Sunday, a suicide-bomber in the Iranian province of Sistan shockingly killed seven commanders of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard and up to 42 other people. Iran’s President Mr Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says the attack was planned inside Pakistan where an anti-Iran terrorist organisation named Jundallah has been active for the past several years. The Pakistani chargé d’affaires in Tehran has been called to the Foreign Ministry in connection with what can be called the most serious terrorist incident in Iran for some years.
Despite some understanding between Iran and Pakistan over the activity of Jundallah inside Pakistan — Pakistan has been surrendering arrested anti-Iran terrorists to Tehran — regional geopolitics is bound to trigger unfriendly speculation. Needless to say, Jundallah, the Pakistan-based Iranian-Baloch terrorist organisation, has acknowledged the latest attack in Sistan. Iran says Jundallah leader Andolmalik Rigi is in Balochistan; Pakistan says he is not. Both however know that nothing can be said for certain.
The map of hostilities in the region is extremely complicated and it doesn’t matter that President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani have both condemned the attack. Baloch nationalism on both sides of the Iran-Pakistan border threatens both nation-states, and solutions on both sides are complicated by the nature of the centralised states and their ideological content. The Iranian speaker of parliament has accused the United States of having instigated the attack on Iran’s most powerful Revolutionary Guard. The Iranian press quotes leaders saying the United Kingdom too is involved.
Pakistan is in trouble because it had its own Jandullah operating in Karachi for the Taliban of South Waziristan till 2004. It is now quite clear that Pakistani “Jandullah” is not the “Jundallah” outfit that is attacking inside Iran, but the modus operandi of the latter borrows much from the terrorism of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. For instance, the use of suicide-bombing carries the signature of madrassa-based indoctrination even though the Sunni Baloch of Pakistan are strictly secular and take no part in killing the Shia in Balochistan.
Iran has a complex code of interpretation when it comes to explaining to its people certain developments on its eastern border. At the higher level of statesmanship, it is engaged with Pakistan on what can be called the biggest energy project of South Asia, called the Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline project. At the domestic political level, it looks at Pakistan as a state that favours the Taliban — at the top of the list of enemies in Tehran — and aligns with Iran’s arch-enemy, the United States. This in itself gives rise to a complex imagined network of intrigue and double-dealing.
Hanging from this is the accusation that the US is funding Jundallah to create trouble in Sistan to “balance” the trouble Iran is supposedly making in Iraq. Many Pakistanis buy into this. But at the same time, Iran becomes unhappy when the US and Pakistan start thinking of “talking” to their separate Talibans. It cannot help thinking that both will somehow bring the Taliban back to power in Kabul and thus endanger the non-Pashtun population of Afghanistan as well as endanger Iran’s security on its eastern border.
There is a clear break here between what the world thinks and what Iran thinks. The world thinks that the US unwittingly strengthened Iran’s regional position by destroying two regimes: Saddam Hussein’s in the west and the Taliban’s in the east. But Tehran continues to think that the US and its allies are trying to get Iran into a challenging regional pincers movement. Unfortunately, Pakistan can hardly reassure Iran in this regard because of its declining writ of the state in Balochistan and elsewhere.
Within this extremely murky strategic thinking, Iran has acted in its own national interest. It has given shelter to “actors” from Pakistan who promised to create difficulties for the US. It has provided safe haven to runaway warlords from Afghanistan it thought could at least temporarily damage the unity of the Taliban. It is known to have “facilitated” the passage of Al Qaeda terrorists from Pakistan to Iraq in 2003, which then actually led to the massacre of the Shia there.
But in many ways, Iran promises to become as important an ally of Pakistan as China, mainly because of its role as a supplier of energy. At the same time, however, Pakistan has to retain the option of international support, including that of the Arabs — something for which Iran’s current government doesn’t care much. Hence a measure of tolerable bilateral tension. *
SECOND EDITORIAL: Madrassa challenge in Islamabad
The police on Sunday raided madrassas in Islamabad and found nothing wrong with them. It checked the records and particulars of the students enrolled there, but finding no irregularities during its 90-minute operation, made no arrests. But what it did on Sunday was wrong. It should have first got the “activities” of the madrassas checked through intelligence and then gone in for the target if necessary. If you don’t have intelligence, or if intelligence is aligned with the target, then don’t go near the madrassas.
There was a report in the national press on June 18, 2009 that the government had discovered that there were 260 madrassas in Islamabad, out of which a dozen were “illegal”. Some madrassas were even busy spreading hatred against the armed forces of Pakistan. One Jamia Masjid Qasimiya in F-8/3 was warned by the government to “give up hostile activities in 15 days”. So we may ask: what did the government do on Sunday about the 12 madrassas that were illegal?
Islamabad is a city where the terrorists have penetrated more than any other city. The emotional support the media has given to Lal Masjid since 2007 has only led to the consolidation of the hold of the anti-state elements there. Most of the manpower behind terrorist attacks did not have to travel far: most of it was already located in Islamabad. The press has also reported 70 new illegal mosques after the fiasco of Lal Masjid. What has the besieged government done about it?
Foreigners don’t feel safe in the capital of Pakistan. The nation is focused on how much security the embassies are mustering to save themselves from being attacked, but very little thought is given to the spreading power of the militants over the capital. *