By Asif Durrani
Was it a coincidence that Zahedan and Pulwama suicide attacks took place within 24 hours on 13th and 14th February, respectively? These attacks carry a very serious message from the perpetrators that they would keep Pakistan under pressure whenever an opportunity arises for Pakistan to head towards stability and prosperity. As stated by Prime Minister Imran Khan that Pulwama attacks had no benefits for Pakistan. Similarly, those who chose a day earlier to attack the IRGC convoy were aware of the arrival of Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, to Pakistan. Everyone knows how sceptical Iran has been about Saudi Arabia and MBS’ visit to Pakistan was not seen in a favourable light. There is a common factor which prompted these attacks, especially the timings of attacks in short succession in Iran and Pulwama. Clearly, it was meant to sabotage the visit of Saudi Crown Prince. It was intended to kill two birds with a single stone; to sabotage the visit so that MBS may cancel his visit and portray Pakistan as an insecure country for investment.
Let us first discuss the Iran attack. Reportedly the suicide attack took place at the Zahedan-Khash highway inside the Iranian territory killing 27 Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) soldiers. According to the Iranian officials, the Jashe Adl was responsible for the attacks, whose operatives are allegedly based in Pakistani Balochistan and are supported by Saudi Arabia and UAE. Later, Iranian Armed Forces chief General Bagheri claimed that the suicide attackers were Pakistanis.
It is a fact that Iranian officials have been accusing Jashe Adl in the past of perpetrating terrorist acts inside Sistan-o-Balochistan and complained of Saudi and Emarati connivance in these acts. However, this time the Iranian officials forgot the timings of these suicide attacks to portray Saudi Arabia in bad light and put pressure on Pakistan for “laxity or complicity” in the crime. Firstly, it would be naïve on the part of Saudis to encourage such an attack when their Crown Prince is on an official visit to Pakistan. Secondly, during the past two years, Pakistan has taken effective security measures along the Iranian border which has brought down incidents of illegal crossing, smuggling of narcotics and human trafficking-a fact acknowledged by the Iranian officials at the highest level.
Significantly, a major link to the terrorist attacks in Zahedan-Khash with circumstantial evidence is being ignored. India has been very much involved in the Iranian Balochistan. With investment in Chabahar Port to gain access to Afghanistan and Central Asia, India has been running a parallel track of espionage against Pakistan in the past few years. Indian Naval officer Kulbhushan Jhadev was running a spy network during these years in Chabahar under the garb of jewellery business. He was arrested in Pakistani Balochistan but his two accomplices fled from Chabahar despite being informed by the Pakistani officials to their Iranian counterparts. Still a satisfactory answer is awaited from Iran. However, this is not the occasion to go into the details as the matter is on the agenda of two governments.
But the Indian involvement in Zahedan-Khash suicide attack cannot be ruled out given the fact that Indian intelligence agency, RAW, through its Consulate in Zahedan and front offices in Chabahar,has been actively involved with the dissidents of Pakistani Balochistan. Significantly, for operational reasons, these dissidents have forged working relationship with the sectarian elements in Balochistan. It’s common sense that India would facilitate Zahedan-Khash attacks on a simple logic that no one would suspect India of its complicity while it would cause damage to Pakistan-Iran relationship, and, simultaneously sabotage the Crown Prince’s visit to Pakistan.
The second episode of the suicide drama unfolds in Pulwama where the perpetrator took the lives of 42 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel. Again, there are variety of factors which need to be looked into to decipher the real motives of Pulwama suicide attacks. First, if one presumes that it is the job of Jaish-e Mohammad (JeM), and it happened at the behest of JeM’s leadership based in Pakistan then it should really be a cause for concern for the Pakistani government that non-state actors are dictating Pakistan’s foreign policy. In that case it would serve the cause of peace if the Government of Pakistan may come out openly in denouncing such acts and taking the culprits to task.
Second, and strangely, no one has seen the authentic statement coming out from the erstwhile JeM accepting the responsibility of attacks on the CRPF convoy. That within minutes of the incident Indian officials and media pointed the finger towards JeM and Pakistan smack of sinister designs by those who thrive on perennial tensions between Pakistan and India. Objective Indian commentators have asked many questions leading to incompetence and security lapses. However, the manner in which hype has been created around the issue with ruling party going berserk to “teach Pakistan a lesson” reveals that it suits Mr. Modi to ratchet up tensions with Pakistan; solidify Hindu votes and create fear psychosis, especially amongst the Muslims. The question arises why would India kill its own soldiers to make a point. This is precisely the point; it is no more a secret that Chattissingh-Pora incident in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IHK) in which dozens of Sikhs were actually killed by the Indian security forces but blamed on the Kashmiri freedom fighters. That intelligence agencies do such things is not surprising in order to camouflage their actions.
Given the deteriorating situation in the Indian Occupied Kashmir, where teenagers are blinded with pellet guns, India is going for shortcuts without realizing that Kashmir is not a law and order issue; it is a question of Kashmiris right to self-determination. As conveyed by Prime Minister Imran Khan that dialogue is the only viable option to resolve disputes; after 17 years of death and destruction Americans and Taliban are engaging each other for a solution. Kashmir dispute is also awaiting serious and meaningful dialogue to lessen the agony of hapless Kashmiris.
Certainly, the obtaining situation poses a grave challenge to Pakistan, as on one hand it is Iran which has built a case against Pakistan while on the other India is raising anti-Pakistan hype to dangerous levels with grave consequences. All this is happening at a time when Afghan issue is nearing a solution, at least Americans and Taliban are engaging each other in a serious dialogue. While Iran seems to be agreeable to a possible rapprochement with the Taliban which may facilitate US forces withdrawal, it is India which is uncomfortable with the emerging situation and is itching to play a spoiler’s role in Afghanistan. After the Zahedan-Khash suicide attacks, Iranians, who seem to be on the same page with Pakistan on the Afghanistan issue, would be running second thoughts to show their annoyance on MBS’ visit and Pakistan’s growing closeness with Saudi Arabia although for wrong reasons. MBS’ visit has not produced anything which may point towards a change in Pakistan’s policy towards Iran. Pakistan and Iran have always stood by each other and that is not going to change despite upheavals in the region.
For India, it is a golden opportunity to reset the relationship with Pakistan rather than keep South Asia hostage to its intransigence. Time has come to address core issues with mutual accommodation and in a spirit of compromise; a compromise to address the issues of poverty in our two countries which boast to be nuclear powers while hundreds and millions of their people are seething under abject poverty. What a shame!
(The writer is a former ambassador of Pakistan and has also served as Deputy High Commissioner in London.)