The Iran-Pakistan conundrum
I’ve had a post brewing in my head about developments in Iran-Pak all day long – had to shove thoughts of Jundullah aside to blog about the Islamabad bombings – but this tweet just reminded me of why I needed to write in the first place.
The attack on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps on Sunday, which killed 43 people including senior officers, has led to quite a disaster for the already-besieged-with-problems Pakistan. Iran, which has blamed (in not so many words) the United States, the United Kingdom and Pakistan for the attack, has been going back and forth with Pakistan on the root of the problem: Jundullah.
The group – based in Pakistan’s Balochistan province – has taken responsibility for the attack. In a nutshell, Iran wants Pakistan to hand over its leader, Abdolmalek Rigi, over to the Iranian authorities. On the other hand, Pakistan denies that Rigi is in Pakistan. A Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesperson told AFP:
‘We don’t know the whereabouts of Rigi,’ said the Pakistan spokesman. ‘As Interior Minister Rehman Malik said, Rigi is not in Pakistan,’ he added.
Pakistan has a lot at stake here. The country enjoys a stellar relationship with Iran – save for the rows they get into over Jundullah – and that relationship has been built further during Zardari’s presidency. The much-talked about Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline deal could see a delay if the row isn’t resolved soon. To add, the Iranian Parliament has demanded Ahmedinajad to freeze aid to Pakistan, which is to the tune of 300 million dollars for counter-terrorism assistance.
It is also via Iranian legislators that the idea of a military operation inside Pakistan came about:
Isna quoted a lawmaker from Sistan-Baluchestan, Payman Forouzesh, as saying: “There is unanimity about the Revolutionary Guards and the security forces engaging in operations in any place they would deem necessary.”
Apparently referring to agreement among lawmakers, he said: “There is even unanimity that these operations (could) take place in Pakistan territory.”
I don’t think that Iran, despite being furious over the attack, will actually allow IRGC to cross over into Pakistan and begin ground operations here. Instead, I assume that Pakistan will try and find some Jundullah members and hand them over to Iran and try and appease Iran in any way possible.
Meanwhile, the two friends have been talking.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday urged his Pakistani counterpart to confront the rebels, saying the “presence of terrorist elements in Pakistan is not justifiable.”
“The Pakistani government should help to quickly arrest these criminals so they can punished,” Ahmadinejad told Asif Ali Zardari during a telephone call received from the Pakistani leader.
Zardari called the incident “gruesome and barbaric” and pledged full Pakistani support to fight the militants, according to a statement from his office.
But remember, the Revolutionary Guards want Abdolmalek Rigi
The head of the Guards, General Mohammad Ali Jafari, said on Monday that Tehran will demand that Pakistan hand over Jundallah leader Abdolmalek Rigi, who is accused of being the mastermind of the bombing.
Jafari said a Tehran delegation will head to Pakistan to deliver “proof to them so they know that the Islamic Republic is aware of its (Pakistan’s) support” to the group led by Rigi.
Lets see what the next few days bring to this state of affairs. President Zardari, your move?