February 27, 2021
The Pakistani foreign office on Friday described a statement by an Iranian official accusing Pakistani security forces of shooting at oil smugglers earlier this week as “factually incorrect,” reaffirming that the incident had taken place on the Iranian side of the border.
According to Human Rights Watch, the incident took place on Monday near the Iranian town of Saravan, killing 10 people and injuring five.
Following the development, Iran’s deputy governor of Sistan-Baluchistan province, Mohammad Hadi Marashi, accused Pakistani forces of opening fire at a gathering of fuel smugglers near the border who, he claimed, were trying to cross back into Iran.
“The incident occurred on the Iranian side of the border,” foreign office spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri told the media during a press briefing in Islamabad.
“We are aware of the statement, which is factually incorrect,” he said. “We have taken up the matter with the Iranian embassy [in Islamabad] about the statement made by the deputy governor of Sistan-Baluchistan province of Iran.”
Pakistan has set aside nearly $20 million to fence its 900-kilometer border with Iran, frequently used for trade and by minority Shia Muslims who travel from Pakistan to Iran for religious pilgrimages. But the border is also the entry point for cross-border militancy and for an illegal fuel trade that authorities have struggled to crackdown on for decades.
“Such unfortunate incidents validate the need to have more formal ways to increase trading opportunities for local people,” the foreign office spokesperson said, adding that Pakistan viewed its border with Iran as a model for peace and security.
“We remain engaged with Iranian officials to discuss ways and means of facilitating cross-border commerce for local people living on both sides of the border and ensure the security of our common frontier,” he said
According to AFP, Iran was also prodded by Human Rights Watch on Friday to investigate excessive use of force by Revolutionary Guards against smugglers attempting to transport fuel to Pakistan.
Quoting Baluch activists, the rights group claimed that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had blocked a road used to transport fuel before apparently opening fire at people attempting to reopen the route.
The action prompted attacks by angry protesters on government buildings in both Saravan and the Sistan-Baluchistan provincial capital Zahedan.
“The Iranian authorities should urgently conduct a transparent and impartial investigation into the shootings at the Saravan border,” said HRW Iran researcher Tara Sepehri Far. “The authorities should hold those responsible for wrongdoing to account, appropriately compensate victims and ensure that border guards are taking the utmost precautions to respect the right to life and other human rights.”
The rights group noted the lack of employment opportunities in the province, saying it left its ethnic Baluch population with few alternatives but to indulge in illegal trade with their fellow Balochs across the border.
“Similar to the western provinces of Western Azerbaijan and Kurdistan [on the border with Iraq], its lack of economic opportunities has led many residents to engage in unlawful cross-border commerce with Pakistan,” said the New York-based watchdog.