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Border politics

IRAN is claiming that 10 of its border guards were killed by long-range guns from across the border in Balochistan on April 26. The attacks, according to Iran, were perpetrated by Jaish al-Adl, an extremist Iranian Sunni militant group active in the Iranian border province of Sistan-Baluchestan. Iran alleges that JA has bases in the border regions of Balochistan.

JA has claimed responsibility for several similar attacks in recent history, which have adversely affected relations between the two Muslim neighbours. This time, however, the rebuke from Iranian state officials has been much stronger, alarmingly taking the form of threats of possible armed retaliation. The Iranian border police voiced its opinion first, stating that “the Pakistani government bears the ultimate responsibility for the attack”. This was followed by a statement from the official spokesman for the foreign ministry of Iran, Bahram Qassemi, who contended that “the Pakistani government should be held accountable for the presence and operation of these vicious groups on its soil”.

The most serious warning, however, came later, a couple of weeks after the attack, when the Iranian armed forces’ chief of staff, Maj-Gen Mohammad Baqeri, issued a stern ultimatum to Pakistan that if these attacks, which were, according to him, being carried out with the support of the US and Saudi Arabia, were to continue, and Pakistan did not act by tightening its control over its own borders, then Iran would target terrorist safe havens across the border in order to protect itself.

To protest this, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was quick to summon the Iranian ambassador; it also expressed its disappointment by officially emphasising that such statements by Iranian officials were “against the spirit of brotherly relations”. All this unease prompted Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, to visit Islamabad and, with diplomacy ostensibly prevailing, both countries agreed — yet again — to enhance border cooperation. One of Zarif’s advisers accompanying him informally hinted that Baqeri’s statement was mere military rhetoric targeted at a purely local audience. This seems accurate considering that only the supreme leader of Iran or the Iranian president, with the consent of the former, can initiate any foreign military action and neither of the two has indicated any desire to use force against Pakistan even when national fervour and politicking are high in Iran because of national elections.

Pakistan has made it unequivocally clear that any cross-border attack or movement of Iranian border forces into Pakistan would be a violation of international law. This is an accurate rendition of international law under which armed reprisals by Iran against non-state actors residing in Pakistan would infringe on Article 2(4) of the UN Charter because, without the consent of Pakistan, these attacks would undermine Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty. Read more


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