Islamabad, Asharq Al-Awsat – Iran’s criticism of its south-eastern neighbor Pakistan increased yesterday against the backdrop of the suicide bomber that targeted the Ashoura celebrations in the city of Chabahar in the Sistan-Baluchistan province of Iran, killing 35 and injuring more than 100 others.
The Iranian authorities quickly accused the US and Israel of supporting those responsible for this attack whilst also refusing to rule out Pakistani officials facilitating this attack by helping those responsible to enter Iran, something that Islamabad strongly denies. However despite these denials, Iranian security officials were quick to urge Pakistan to control its border, and warned that the Iranians would take control of this border if the Pakistani authorities failed to do so.
This escalation in rhetoric took place at the same time that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad telephoned Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and demanded that the Pakistani government arrest and hand over “known terrorists” responsible for the attacks.
According to the Iranian Fars News Agency, Ahmadinejad called on Zardari to take immediate action to identify and extradite the terrorists behind the recent bombing in Chabahar to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Ahmadinejad also announced that Tehran was ready to exchange intelligence and ready for mutual cooperation with Islamabad to combat terrorism, adding that “cooperation and firm action by the two countries [Iran and Pakistan] will certainly uproot terrorism in the region.”
According to the Iranian Fars News Agency, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari pledged to “spare no effort” to eradicate the phenomenon of terrorism through “assistance and cooperation with Iran.”
In Pakistan, senior officials confirmed that the Pakistani government had recently received a list of wanted terrorists from the Iranian authorities.
A senior Pakistani official told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the Iranian government has recently given us a list of terrorists and fugitives wanted by the Iranian government.” He clarified that since February 2010, the Pakistani and Iranian governments have cooperated to combat terrorism at the regional level, and that there has been numerous occasions when the two countries have shared intelligence.
The senior Pakistani official also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the arrest of Abdul-Malik Rigi – leader of the Sunni opposition group Jundallah – would not have taken place had the Pakistani intelligence services not tipped off their Iranian counterpart.”
The Pakistani and Iranian intelligence services exchange of information and intelligence has focused on the activities of the Sunni militant Jundallah group. As part of this cooperation, Pakistani intelligence arrested Abdul-Hamid Rigi (brother of Abdul-Malik Rigi) in 2008, handing him over to the Iranian government. Abdul-Hamid Rigi was executed by hanging on 24 May, 2010.
According to Pakistani sources, over the past 3 months, Islamabad has intensified its border patrol and presence along the Iranian border in order to monitor the activities of Jundallah.
However the Iranian authorities believe that this security cooperation is insufficient, and this can be seen in the statement made by Iran’s Armed Forces Chief of Staff Major General Hassan Firouzabadi on Tuesday. Firouzabadi called on the Pakistani authorities to control its border, saying “if Pakistan does not take serious measures to halt terrorist activities along the border with Iran…we will make use of our legitimate rights.”
A Fars News report also claimed that Iran could take steps against Jundallah similar to those taken by the Turkish army against the PKK which saw the Turkish army entering Iraqi territory in pursuit of PKK elements.
The Fars News report said that public opinion in Iran supports “security and military steps being taken against the terrorists on Pakistani territory.” The Turkish army entered Iraqi territory in pursuit of PKK elements that had carried out attacks on more than one occasion, with the report giving an example of the Turkish army infiltration Iraqi territory in 2008 and using land and air forces to kill around 240 PKK members, losing 27 soldiers.
The Fars News report called on the Iranian military to follow this example and pursue Jundallah forces onto Pakistani territory in the event of the Pakistani security apparatus failing to cooperate sufficiently against this terrorist group.