ISLAMABAD -- Pakistani authorities have discovered links to Iranian intelligence as part of a crackdown on money launderers and terror financiers.
The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on February 9 arrested a senior Karachi-based official of the House Building Finance Corporation, a Pakistani housing finance company that is a subsidiary of State Bank of Pakistan.
The official was detained for alleged involvement in "conducting hundi and hawala business for Iranian intelligence", Dawn reported.
The FIA also arrested an employee of the Balochistan government in Quetta for his alleged involvement in money laundering in the same investigation.
Those arrests came after authorities busted a racket of hawala and hundi businesses in Karachi, arresting 13 suspects and seizing amounts of foreign and local currencies equal to tens of millions of rupees, according to an FIA official in Karachi.
"The people arrested were working for an Iranian intelligence agency and were involved in sending funds and remittances through a currency exchange firm to its networks operating in Pakistan and elsewhere," the official said on the condition of anonymity.
"Several Pakistani intelligence agencies have been sharing information about the growing influence of Tehran in Pakistan's internal security affairs," the official said.
Interrogations of those arrested are under way, he said, adding that preliminary reports suggest that the Iranian intelligence agency was attempting to fund Tehran-linked militant groups such as the Zainabiyoun Brigade and Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan (SMP).
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) formed the Zainabiyoun Brigade, a militia comprised of Pakistanis sent to fight in Syria in support of Bashar al-Assad's regime and elsewhere.
The Iranian regime has also allegedly provided support and funds to the outlawed SMP, a Shia terror outfit.
The recent arrests are the latest sign of Tehran's growing interference in Pakistan's internal security.
After attacks by separatist groups in Balochistan in early February, Pakistani authorities blamed Tehran for allowing the militant groups to operate from their safe havens in Iran.
The militants who targeted security forces in Panjgur and Noshki in the attacks could have used Iranian soil and traveled from Iran, Ziaullah Langove, the provincial home minister, said at the time.
Balochistan's counter-terrorism authorities last September 24 also announced the arrest of three alleged members of a terrorist cell with ties to Iran during an intelligence-based operation in Turbat district of Balochistan.
Such interference does not bode well for Pakistan, say analysts.
"Iran has expanded its soft power strategy in Pakistan, particularly in Balochistan, through its political, economic and proxy tools," said Jan Achakzai, a security analyst and former adviser to the Balochistan government.
"Tehran has started to exercise its [influence] at multiple levels... and this influence is definitely becoming a nuisance for Pakistan," he wrote in the Global Village Space magazine on February 7.
Baloch separatist groups, the Zainabiyoun Brigade, Fatemiyoun Division -- a militia comprised of Afghans sent to fight in Syria in support of al-Assad -- and other militias founded by the late Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani have recently been activated and are highly likely to create a law-and-order situation in the country, according to Achakzai.
Soleimani, commander of the IRGC's Quds Force, masterminded a number of expansionist proxy wars throughout the region, including in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Afghanistan.
He was killed in a US drone strike on January 3, 2020, in Baghdad.
Last month, the Iranian embassy in Islamabad and its consulates throughout Pakistan organised and funded various events in cities to mark the second anniversary of Soleimani's death, drawing criticism and anger from Pakistanis.