The main cause of the conflict has been Jaish al Adl, a terrorist group which had splintered from another notorious group, Jundullah which the Iranians believed was created in 2003 by its adversaries to punish for its increasing influence in West Asia. Iran has accused Pakistan of sheltering Jaish al Adl. Despite several border skirmishes with Iran, Pakistan has refused to crackdown on the group operating out of Balochistan, where incidentally, the army has a sizeable presence and it has been conducting periodical operations to quell the persistent Baloch dissent. Despite these provocations, Iran has maintained a restraint in responding to Pakistan’s perfidy and frequent terrorist attacks against its citizens and security forces.
But when in early May, Jaish al Adl killed 10 Iranian security personnel, Iran issued a strong and clear warning to Pakistan. Its tone and tenor was unprecedented and reflected the depth of anger in Teheran about Pakistan’s continuing laxity in dealing with the terrorist group. Iran believes that laxity was only a pretext to camouflage Pakistan’s complicity with such groups. On May 8, the state news agency IRNA quoted Major General Mohammed Baqeri, Chief of Army Staff, Iran Army, as saying that ‘unless Pakistan ‘control(s) the borders, arrest(s) the terrorist and shut(s) down their bases…we will hit their safe havens and cells wherever they are.’
This was an unambiguously strong warning to Pakistan to mend its ways. Iran is quite capable of carrying out military raids into Pakistani territory and restrain Pakistan’s response on the border at the same time. For Pakistan, it would not be so easy. It is already dealing with an angry neighbour in Afghanistan which has been threatening to close the borders to counter Pakistan-based terrorist groups carrying out attacks within the country besides Pakistan’s ill-treatment of Afghan refugees. Afghanistan has always held Pakistan guilty of supporting and protecting Taliban and its affiliate groups which have been responsible for the state of instability and violence in the country. Pakistan may have so far taken Afghan threats casually but cannot afford to do now with its more powerful eastern neighbour, India, determined to give a strong response to Pakistan’s consistent intransigence. Moreover, Pakistan would find it difficult to take on Iran on its Balochistan border. Balochistan has for long been a restive province with Baloch rebels keeping the Pakistani security forces at bay, despite the latter’s greater firepower and support. Responding to Iranian threat on the western border could end up in the army fighting on two fronts in Balochistan. Over and above what would restrict Pakistan would be the Chinese interests in avoiding anything that would hinder a faster completion of the China Pakistan Economic Corridorin which Beijing has invested honour and money in large measures. The Chinese are already worried about the situation in Balochistan and if Iran were to launch a limited offensive, as the Army chief had threatened, it could prove to be disastrous for the overambitious corridor.