Iran under pressure to stop sheltering Pakistani insurgent groups

By Zarak Khan

Pakistani police gather August 8 at the Sindh Counter Terrorism Department office in Karachi. [Zarak Khan]

Pakistani police gather August 8 at the Sindh Counter Terrorism Department office in Karachi. [Zarak Khan]

ISLAMABAD -- Amid a surge in cross-border attacks, Islamabad has again pressured Tehran to halt its support for Pakistani insurgent groups taking refuge on Iranian soil.

The issue took center stage during recent meetings of high-ranking officials from both nations, Pakistani officials said.

During a visit to Islamabad August 3, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian met with his Pakistani counterpart, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

Two weeks earlier, Pakistani chief of army staff Gen. Syed Asim Munir visited Tehran, where he met with top Iranian officials, including Iranian armed forces chief of staff Maj. Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri.

Munir and Bagheri "agreed that terrorism was a common threat to the region in general and both countries in particular", Pakistan's military said in a July 16 statement following the meeting.

"They vowed to eradicate the menace of terrorism in the border areas through intelligence sharing and effective actions against the terrorists' networks, and explore avenues for enhancing cooperation in the security domain," it said.

During his two-day visit, Munir also discussed with Amir-Abdollahian and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi the importance of Pakistani-Iranian relations for regional peace and stability.

Rise in cross-border attacks

Despite the display of cordiality, security and foreign ministry officials privy to the meeting said the relationship between the two nations recently has become strained.

This deterioration stems particularly from escalating attacks on Pakistani security personnel and border posts in Balochistan province orchestrated by Pakistani militants finding refuge in Iran.

Militants attacked a Pakistani security post in the Singwan area along the Iranian border, Pakistan's military said June 1, referring to a shootout in which two soldiers were killed.

Pakistan's military said in a statement April 1 that four of its soldiers in Kech district, Balochistan, near the border with Iran, had been killed by a "group of terrorists".

The military said it had informed Iran of the attack, in hopes of preventing such incidents in the future.

After a similar ambush in January that killed four Pakistani soldiers in Kech, Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif called on Iran to prevent its territory from being used for "cross-border attacks".

Attacks staged from Iranian soil

In addition to the surge in cross-border violence, Pakistani insurgent groups -- particularly the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), led by individuals hiding inside Iran -- have escalated their assaults.

They have targeted Balochistan province and the port city of Karachi.

"The BLA and BLF are beneficiaries of Iran's lenient attitude towards them," the Jamestown Foundation said in a March 2022 report.

This is because Iranian security forces "have given protection and refuge to them and other Baloch rebel groups", the Washington-based think-tank said.

The Pakistani groups have used this protection to attack Jaish al-Adl, an Iranian militant group that opposes Tehran for its alleged oppression of the Baloch ethnic community in Sistan and Baluchestan province, Iran, it added.

On Tuesday (August 8), the BLF claimed an attack the day before that killed a paramilitary Pakistan Ranger in the Lyari neighborhood of Karachi.

In June, the BLA claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing using a female assassin who targeted security forces in Turbat district, Balochistan.

In March, Counter Terrorism Department officials in Balochistan said officers arrested a would-be female suicide bomber affiliated with the BLF.

"Tehran presents itself as an ally to Pakistan, but its actions of providing refuge to the BLA and BLF within its territory continue to erode Pakistan's security," said Islamabad-based security analyst Zameer Qureshi.

In his recent visit to Tehran, the Pakistani chief of army staff clearly asked the Iranian regime to stop enabling Pakistani militant groups to take sanctuary in Iran, and to enhance border security measures, Qureshi noted.

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