Iran’s IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari also accused the US and Israel of ordering Saudi Arabia and the UAE to carry out the attack on IRGC personnel. (Reuters)

By Track Persia

February 25, 2019

Pakistan and Iran have cultural and religious links between them, given they share more than 900-kilometer border.

The relations between the two neighbouring countries witnessed a significant transformation after the establishment of independent Pakistan in 1948. The Shah of Iran was the first state leader to visit Pakistan. He was given a memorable welcome by Pakistani enthusiastic crowds. During the Shah era, Iran formed significant cooperation with Pakistan in the security, cultural and economic issues. While the US-led Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO), created in 1955, sponsored the security cooperation between the two countries, the Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD), created in 1964, organised the economic side of the cooperation between the two neighbouring countries. Iran even supported Pakistan against India during the conflict wars between the two countries in 1965 and 1971.

The relations between the two neighbouring countries remained friendly even after the success of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran under the leadership of late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini that overthrew the Shah.

Despite both countries opposed the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (1979-88), the relations between them was declining especially because the US replaced Iran with Pakistan as its ally. Consequently, the Islamic Republic in Iran started to propagate the perception that Pakistan was the US proxy and that negatively impacted how Pakistanis viewed their neighbours.

The closeness between Pakistan and the Arab Gulf states during the 1980s when the sectarian divide was rising between Sunni and the Shi’i Islam also affected the relations between Iran and Pakistan.

Additionally, the trust between the two neighbours was also affected by the cooperation between Pakistan and the US-led ‘War on Terror’ campaign. Especially this cooperation was followed by the US military campaign against the Taliban government in 2001 in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Iran was feeling it was closely watched by the world powers which had then military presence in the region and given there were accusations that it was supporting militant factions and insurgency in the region including Afghanistan such as the Taliban and Hezb-e-Islam. These allegations can be substantiated if taking into account some intelligence confirming that members of al-Qaeda and Taliban have been visiting or living in Iran. Most widely circulated evidence about the terrorists’ ties to Iran is when the former Taliban leader Mullah Mansour was killed in a US strike while returning from Iran.

Despite the formal media rhetoric on both sides that they are ‘bother states’, the Iranian-Pakistani economic relations have reached its lowest level. The military cooperation between the two neighbours has in fact stopped and there have been skirmishes along the borders.

Tehran has repeatedly accused Islamabad of sheltering militants connected with attacks in its regions bordering Pakistan. Some Iranian officials have threatened Pakistan with strikes and more recently an Iranian drone is reported to have been shot down in Pakistan.

On February 13, a suicide bombing targeting a bus carrying personnel of Iran’s elite paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) force killed at least 41 people, according to Iranian news agencies. The attack took place in Sistan-Baluchistan province, a flashpoint where Pakistan-based Baluchi separatists and jihadists carry out cross-border raids. The province has a large Baluchi community, Sunni Muslims and it straddles the border. Like many other minorities in the predominantly Shi’i country, Baluchis in Iran complain that they are discriminated against by the Iranian Shi’i theocracy and that they are treated as second-class citizens in Iran.  The province, which lies on a major opium trafficking route, has seen occasional clashes between Iranian forces and Baluch separatists, as well as drug traffickers.

In 2009, more than 40 people, including six Guard commanders, were killed in a suicide attack by the separatists in Sistan and Baluchistan province. The militant Jaish Al-Adl (Army of Justice), which is blacklisted as a terrorist group by Iran, claimed responsibility for the raid on social media.  Jaish Al-Adl was formed in 2012 as a successor to the Sunni group Jundallah (Soldiers of God), which waged a deadly insurgency against Iranian targets over the previous decade.

The already tense relations between Iran and Pakistan have also worsened by the recent threats released by some Iranian officials including threatening there will be Iranian intervention in Pakistan if such attacks are not stopped by Islamabad.

The Chief of General Staff of Iranian Armed Forces, Major General Mohammad Bagheri, warned on February 18, that Tehran will intervene if terrorist presence in Pakistan is not addressed and eliminated “immediately”. The state news agency IRNA has quoted Bagheri as saying that if “training camps” and their activities in some areas of Pakistan continue “for any reason whatsoever,” Iran will immediately intervene.

In order to de-escalate tensions with its neighbour in the west, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s administration plans to fence 950km of the border linking Pakistan’s Balochistan province with Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan province.

Pakistan is keen to address the issue, particularly at a time when India and Afghanistan are blaming it for orchestrating attacks against them. Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmoud Quraishi immediately sent a high-level delegation to Tehran to assure the Islamic Republic of a thorough investigation and all-out cooperation in hunting down the culprits.

The regime in Iran seems to have been outraged by the closeness between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. It accuses the latest attacks on its security personnel by the Iranian separatists of having ties to the Saudi Kingdom without providing evidence.

Iran has claimed that the recent investments of Saudi Arabia, Iran’s archenemy, in Pakistan are to divide Pakistan and increase Saudi influence in the region.  The head of Iran’s IRGC General Mohammad Ali Jafari threatened to retaliate against Saudi Arabia and the UAE last week over the suicide car bombing against the IRGC members. Jafari also accused the US and Israel of ordering Saudi Arabia and the UAE to carry out the attack, semi-official Tasnim news reported.

Iran has previously accused Saudi Arabia of supporting militant Sunni groups that have attacked its security forces without providing evidence. Riyadh denied the charges.

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.