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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Iranian-Pakistani Tensions in the Wake of Terrorist Attacks

Filed under: Iran

Iranian-Pakistani Tensions in the Wake of Terrorist Attacks
Remains of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ bus after the terrorist attack. (Baghdad Post)

On February 13, 2019, the Sunni Jaysh al-Adl (Army of Justice) organization claimed responsibility for the suicide car bombing of a bus carrying dozens of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) personnel in the Khash-Zahedan area of ​​ Iran’s Sistan-Balochistan province. Notably, this was the first suicide attack for which the organization has claimed responsibility.1 Jaysh al-Adl usually carries out abductions, assassinations, and ambushes. So far, another Sunni Balochi organization, Ansar Al-Furqan, has perpetrated suicide attacks, such as the early December 2018 attack near the central port city of Chabahar.

IRNA, Iran’s official news agency, quoted an IRGC spokesperson who said the attack resulted in at least 27 fatalities and 18 wounded among IRGC personnel. According to the report, the bus was carrying IRGC border patrol troops on their way home after duty. Jaysh al-Adl, in its communique claiming responsibility, disseminated on social media, claimed that the attack killed all the bus occupants.2

Balochi Army of Justice claiming responsibility
Balochi Army of Justice claiming responsibility (official Iranian translation of Jaysh al-Adi communique)
A memorial graphic published by the IRGC
A memorial graphic published by the IRGC in tribute to the Revolutionary Guards killed in the terror attack.

The attack, the third in a single month in that district, was carried out in the midst of the 40th anniversary celebrations of Iran’s Revolution and on the day Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, delivered an address to Iranian youth on the deterioration of the security situation in the region and the increasing daring of Sunni organizations against the Iranian regime.3

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif hastened to link the attack to the “anti-Iranian Peace and Security in the Middle East Summit held in Warsaw” at the initiative of President Trump.

Zarif tweeted:

Is it no coincidence that Iran is hit by terror on the very day that #WarsawCircus begins? Especially when cohorts of same terrorists cheer it from Warsaw streets & support it with Twitter bots? The U.S. seems to always make the same wrong choices, but expect[s] different results.4

Emblem of the Balochistan Liberation Army
Emblem of the Balochistan Liberation Army

Hizbullah also condemned the terrorist bus attack and observed that it took place at the same time as the “anti-Iranian conference in Poland, demonstrating the connection between terrorist organizations undermining Iranian stability.”

Background on Sunni Terrorists

The Jaysh al-Adl organization was established in 2012 to protect and fight for the rights of the Iranian Sunni minority, which is treated with discrimination and neglect by the Shiite regime. The organization has been focusing its attacks on the Sistan-Balochistan province (bordering Pakistan) where the Sunni-Balochi minority is located.

Since the beginning of 2019, the organization carried out three attacks, compared to two attacks a year in 2018 and 2017. It appears that there has been an increase in the motivation and capabilities of the organization in this area to perpetrate attacks against security targets while avoiding harm to the local population. It is possible that there is cooperation between Jaysh al-Adl and Ansar al-Furqan,5 and neither can one rule out the possibility of ties with the Islamic State, explaining the attack’s deadliness.

Growing Tension with Pakistan

The latest terror attack once again heightened the security tensions between Iran and Pakistan, where the Sunni terrorist organizations allegedly find refuge. On February 13, 2019, Iran’s Foreign Ministry urgently summoned Pakistan’s ambassador to Iran and conveyed Iran’s expectation of the Pakistani government to take “serious and determined steps” against the terrorist organizations based on their territory, to monitor their movements in the border area between the two countries, and arrest those responsible for the attack.

Meanwhile, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told his Iranian counterpart that a delegation of Pakistani experts would soon arrive in Tehran for talks on the attack against the IRGC and that Pakistan was ready for any cooperation with Iran on fighting terror.6

Blaming Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates

Following the attack, IRGC commander Muhammad Jafari warned Islamabad against providing aid or support to the Sunni terrorist groups and strongly criticized Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for operating several Sunni terrorist organizations and giving them refuge. The ISI is considered one of the strongest security organizations in the country.

In Iran, IRGC commanders announced on February 19, 2019, the identity of the suicide attacker – a Pakistani national. Several members of the terrorist team were apprehended, and they were identified as Pakistanis and Iranian nationals from the Balochistan province.7 Some 150 kilos of explosives were discovered.

In addition, Jafari vowed to take revenge on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which support and incite terrorist activities on Iranian soil. In his statement at the funerals, he claimed that the security bodies in Iran have solid information and proof that the intelligence organizations of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are behind the attempts to destabilize southeastern Iran. He warned that Iran would no longer show restraint, as it has so far, and that if such incidents were to be repeated, Iran would respond with force and “avenge the blood of those killed.”

The Iranian leader condemned the bombing and accused “foreign (U.S.) and regional (Saudi) intelligence agencies of carrying out the attack,” and he called upon the IRGC and Iranian intelligence services to take their revenge on its perpetrators.

The Saudi Crown Prince Enters the Picture

Meanwhile, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in Pakistan for a two-day visit on February 17, 2019, no doubt causing anxiety among his Iranian foes. He met Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and signed memoranda of understanding worth $20 billion “in the fields of energy, petrochemicals, minerals, agriculture, and food processing.”8

“Just consider me the ambassador of Pakistan in Saudi Arabia,” the Saudi crown prince declared at a banquet at the prime minister’s house. Prime Minister Khan said at the cooperation-signing ceremony, “Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are taking their relationship to a level where it has never been before.”

Mohammed bin Salman and Prime Minister Imran Khan
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Prime Minister Imran Khan at a banquet held in the crown prince’s honor.  (Arab press)

Mohammed bin Salman and Imran Khan at a banquet held in the crown princes honor. Mohammed bin Salman and Imran Khan at a banquet held in the crown princes honor. Mohammed bin Salman and Imran Khan at a banquet held in the crown princes honor. Mohammed bin Salman and Imran Khan at a banquet held in the crown princes honor.

Iran and India against Pakistan

On February 14, 2019, the Jaysh-e-Mohammad organization claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack on a convoy of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Latoomode, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India, in which 44 members of the Indian security forces were killed. In this case, too, the “Mohammad army” operated from Pakistani territory, and in light of the proximity of the attacks in Iran and India, the two countries held a series of meetings, which conveyed a firm message to Pakistan. The Indian foreign affairs minister made a brief visit to Iran and met with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, who stated in his Twitter account9 that Iran and India, both suffering from shocking terrorist attacks and multiple casualties, agreed to increase their cooperation on counter-terrorism in the region.

Sushma Swaraj with Seyed Abbas Aragchchi
India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj met Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Aragchchi in Tehran on February 17, 2019, to discuss a joint war on terrorism.10

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