Deadly Militant Attack Strains Fragile Pakistan-Iran Ties

Iran is pressing Pakistan to capture and punish Sunni militants who staged last week’s deadly terrorist attack on Iranian border guards before allegedly fleeing to the neighboring country.

A high-powered 12-member Iranian delegation, led by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, visited Islamabad Wednesday and raised the issue with Pakistani leaders.

An anti-Iran Sunni Muslim militant group called Jaish al Adl, or the Army of Justice, took credit for the April 26 ambush in the southeastern province of Sistan-Balouchestan, which borders southwestern largest Pakistani province of Baluchistan.

Iranian officials said the attackers killed nine guards, wounded two others, abducted one, and then fled to the Pakistani side.

Zarif’s delegation opened the day-long visit by meeting with Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan, who also overseas border security matters. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, the Pakistani minister tried to play down the tensions stemming from the border incident.

“As I mentioned to my brother His Excellency, the [Iranian] Foreign Minister, it’s a case of two countries with one soul. There are too many common bonds,” said Khan. “Yes, there are a few irritants. We have decided to work on a fast-track basis to remove the irritants and send a message to the world that Pakistan and Iran are two countries with one soul.”

Border issues

A statement issued later said that the two governments also agreed “in principle to revive hotline” between their border security forces to resolve any issues at the border.

They also decided that “Operational Committees” at political and military levels would be constituted with a special focus on border management, information and intelligence sharing for curbing illegal cross-border movement, human smuggling and drug trafficking, it added.

The Iranian delegation latter met with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, where the Pakistani leader conveyed his country’s “serious condolences to the government and people of Iran” over last week’s killings of Iranian forces, according to another statement.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Friday wrote to Sharif, calling for the perpetrators of the attack to be brought to justice.

The Iranian side has not released any details of the meetings, but Iran’s state media, including IRNA, have quoted Foreign Minister Zarif as follows:

“The Iranian top diplomat, for his part, highlighted the need for resolution of border issues, a strong and effective fight against terrorists, as well as the arrest and persecution of terrorist groups, especially the perpetrators of Mirjaveh [the border area] terrorist attack.”

Tenuous relationship

Tehran has long alleged that anti-state militants use Pakistani soil for plotting terrorist attacks against Iran. The two countries share nearly 1,000-kilometer long border.

The killings of Iranian forces is the latest in a series of events in recent months that have strained an already fragile relationship between Pakistan and Iran.

Pakistan’s recent decision to become part of a Saudi Arabia-led military coalition of 41 predominantly Sunni Muslim nations also has upset Iran.

Former Pakistani military chief, retired General Raheel Sharif, is already in Riyadh where he is preparing to take charge as the first commander-in-chief of the alliance. Defenses ministers of member nations also are due to hold an inaugural meeting later this month.

Saudi officials insist the coalition is formed to fight regional terrorism, but Iranian officials see it as an anti-Iran grouping and an attempt to expand Saudi influence in the region.

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