Iran-Pakistan challenging amity

Iran-Pakistan challenging amity

Baku, Azerbaijan, Feb. 20

By Azer Ahmadbayli – Trend:

Assurances of friendship from Iranian and Pakistani officials have been more than sufficient in recent years. However, it was enough for a terrorist attack to happen, killing scores of Iranian military, that the rhetoric has changed dramatically.

Tehran warned Pakistan it would “pay a heavy price” for allegedly harboring militants of the Sunni group Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice), which belongs to the Iranian Baluchi minority, and who claimed responsibility for the attack killing 27 and injuring 13 of its elite Revolutionary Guards near the Iran-Pakistan border last week.

“Why do Pakistan’s army and security body … give refuge to these anti-revolutionary groups? Pakistan will no doubt pay a high price,” Revolutionary Guards Chief Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari said in remarks on state television, Reuters reported.

Iranian authorities are confident that militant groups operating from safe havens in Pakistan have been supported by Saudi Arabia and the UAE: “The treacherous Saudi and UAE governments should know that Iran’s patience has ended and we will no longer stand your secret support for these anti-Islam criminals,” Jafari said.

Pakistan, as well as Saudi Arabia and the Emirates have denied any involvement in the incident.

A sharp change of tone, apart from emotions, can only speak of one thing: regular statements about good-neighborliness are rather diplomatic in nature, and relations between the two countries are not so serene.

There have been a number of unpleasant points in the Iran-Pakistan relations in recent years.

Iran has probably not forgotten that in 2010, when the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1929, Pakistan voted for the imposition of tough sanctions against Iran.

Despite repeated calls by Tehran to complete the construction of the Pakistani section of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, which is of strategic importance for Tehran, Islamabad has not made any practical response, referring to the lack of funds or the imposed sanctions regime.

In Afghanistan, the interests of the two countries also differ rather than coincide – take at least the confessional factor (Pakistan supports the Sunni Taliban, while Iran supports the Shiite minority of Afghanistan), or the construction of the TAPI gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan through Afghanistan, which can compete with Iran's gas plans.

But the most serious threat and the greatest anger of Tehran is caused by terrorist attacks in the southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchestan, bordering Pakistan. The Iranians have reasons to believe that suicide bombers enter the country from territory of the contiguous state.

In 2010, militants attacked a mosque in the capital of Zahedan province. As a result of the incident, 28 people were killed. In 2013, an attack by militants of the same Jaish al-Adl led to the deaths of 14 Iranian border guards. In 2014, five Iranian border guards were kidnapped. In December last year, three people were killed and about 30 were injured in a suicide bombing in the port city of Chabahar close to Pakistani borders. This is only a part of the deadly list.

Commander of the IRGC Ground Force General Mohammad Pakpour said yesterday the suicide bomber and two other members of a group that committed the recent terrorist attack were Pakistani nationals, Iranian Tasnim agency reported.

Pakistan, willingly or not, is involved in the Saudi-Iranian confrontation, which covers not only Syria, Iraq, Yemen, but also trade and transport communications connecting South Asia and the Middle East through the coast of the Arabian Sea.

During the visit of the Saudi crown prince to Pakistan, the sides signed an MOU in energy, minerals etc. valued at about $20 billion, including a $10 billion refinery and petrochemicals complex near the Pakistani port of Gwadar. This may, to some extent, weaken the significance of the Iranian-Indian project to build and expand the Iranian port of Chabahar, located on the same coast.

At a time when tensions have risen between Iran and Pakistan after the deadly suicide attack and Iran's accusations against Saudi Arabia, an unprecedented diplomatic protocol was observed during the official meeting of the Saudi crown prince in Pakistan.

As world media report, fighter jets escorted the prince’s plane across Pakistani airspace and television stations devoted hours of live coverage to the royal motorcade and ceremony. Prime Minister Imran Khan personally drove the crown prince to the capital Islamabad.

The Saudi prince has been also rewarded with Pakistan’s highest Order, the “Nishan-e-Pakistan”.

In a phone talk with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi offered his condolences over the martyrdom of IRGC military.

He further said his country is ready for any kind of cooperation with Iran to investigate the terrorist attack near the Iran-Pakistan border and jointly fight against terrorist groups.

Can two almost simultaneous events – the deadly attack on Iranian troops by a Pakistan-based armed group, which, Iran believes, has direct ties with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and the royal welcome given by Islamabad in honor of the Saudi crown prince – alienate Iran and Pakistan from each other?

The answer is not completely obvious, but Islamabad ought to do everything not to let this happen, and not to involve itself in the Iranian-Saudi confrontation.

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