By Muhammad Akbar Notezai
April 22, 2015
Iranian authorities, on many occasions, have accused Jundullah of being a proxy group of its rival countries being used to destabilise Iran
In 1979, Iran went through a so-called Islamic Revolution that saw the ouster of King Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi and the installment of Ayatollah Khomeini as the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic. There is no doubt that the Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia, due to this development, remained watchful. They were afraid of the revolution’s extension into neighbouring countries, including Pakistan. Balochistan, being the largest province of the country, shares an approximately 900-kilometre long, porous border with Iran. Moreover, Iran’s Sistan-Balochistan province abundantly contains a population of Sunni Baloch in a Shia state. That is why, as independent analysts say, a Saudi-Iran proxy war started taking place in Balochistan since 1979.
After the Iranian Revolution, Shia elements wanted to spread into Pakistan in general and Balochistan in particular. Saudi Arabia strongly resisted against this and pumped billions of rupees into Pakistan to counter Shia influence. During the 1970s, Saudi Arabia had already expanded its influence in the country jointly with the regime of former dictator General Ziaul Haq. Subsequently, sectarian violence broke out in Balochistan in the mid-1980s, engulfing the Shia Hazara community of Balochistan. The Shia Hazaras are densely populated in Quetta, the capital city of Balochistan province, in its western and eastern areas: Mariabad and Hazara Town. Assaults against them have increased. “In the mid-1980s there were religious tensions between Shia Hazaras and Sunni Pashtun groups in Quetta in which dozens were killed, and this tension and accompanying violence have persisted since then,” writes noted Pakistani journalist Khalid Ahmed in his book titled Sectarian War.
After former Chief Minister of Balochistan Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti’s killing, in 2007 and 2008, 37 Shia Hazaras, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), became targets of sectarian violence. Their fatalities intensified tremendously in 2009. According to a report issued by the Human Rights Watch (HRW), more than 1,000 Shia Hazaras have died in different incidents of sectarian violence in Balochistan.
On the other hand, Abdul Malik Reki, who was ethnically a Baloch, allegedly formed a Sunni sectarian group in 2003 called Jundullah (soldiers of God). The group is said to be responsible for killing Iranian sectarian forces. According to some media reports, it is said that the group later widened its targets to include Iranian civilians too. Moreover, the above-mentioned group has claimed that it was fighting for rights as well as for the defence of the oppressed Sunni Baloch from the aggression of the predominantly Shia Iran state. It should be noted that the Iranian authorities, on many occasions, have accused the group of being a proxy group of its rival countries being used to destabilise Iran. However, the group leader has denied these charges. “Reki changed colour after interactions with the banned Pakistani group Sepah-e-Sahaba (SS) in Lyari Town of Karachi. His anti-Iranian stance as a Baloch shifted to one of being anti-Shia. Not too long afterwards, he joined with SS’s breakaway faction, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an anti-Shia al Qaeda linked militant outfit, wrote slain journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad. “Through this connection, Reki went to the Afghan province of Zabul but the Taliban refused him entry into their ranks because of their suspicion that he had forged links with the US intelligence.”
In 2010, when Abdul Malik Reki was caught and hanged by the Iranian authorities, the Jundullah group was divided up into three splinter groups: the Jaish-ul-Adl, Jaish-ul-Nasr and Lashkar-e-Khorasan. “Among these two splinter groups, the Jaish-ul-Adl, which is allegedly led by Abdul Rahim Mullah Zadeh (who uses a pseudonym name, Salah al-Din al-Faruqi), is stronger than the other two,” said a Quetta based analyst, who did not wish to be named. Moreover, on April 8, 2015, the state-run Iranian news agency of Iran, called IRNA, reported that eight Iranian border guards had been killed in clashes with militants near the border with Pakistan. On the same very day, the Jaish-ul-Adl claimed responsibility for the assault through a Facebook account, which is believed to be associated with the organisation.
In the past, the Jaish-ul-Adl has also claimed responsibility for the deadly assaults on the territory of Iran. One of deadliest assaults was in October 2013, when 14 Iranian guards were killed near the Sarawarn area, which is situated on the Pak-Iran border. Following these deaths, Iran hanged 16 Sunni Baloch in reprisal, though they did not have any links with the group. Moreover, in the post-Jundullah milieu, an unheard of group, the Harakat Ansar Iran (HAI), also emerged. The group’s spokesman, Abu Hafs al-Balochi, recently warned of continued jihad against Iran in a video.
Nevertheless, Asfandyar Wali, the president of the Awami National Party (ANP), rightly argues that Balochistan will be affected if Pakistan joins the Yemen war. He further added that the people of Balochistan would be the biggest victims of the Yemen war if the army is sent to take part in the Yemen war. He also regretted that Pashtuns were still bearing the brunt of the 1980s’ war and Yemen’s war, he said, Balochistan would bear.
There is no denying the fact that the Yemen war is not our war, so why should we intervene and jeopardise the lives of Balochistan’s people who are already suffering? According to Quetta based analysts, the recent clashes on the Pak-Iran border are a harbinger of bleak signs for Pakistan in general and Balochistan in particular, which will further intensify if we intervene into Yemen. The government needs to staye away from the Yemen war. Otherwise, the Yemen war will impact Balochistan and its people, too.
Muhammad Akbar Notezai is a freelance journalist and researcher based in Quetta.