THE periodic violence along the Pakistan-Iran border has the potential to escalate into a full-blown crisis if not managed adroitly, particularly at a time when regional tensions are high. It is therefore welcome that the Pakistani state appears to be taking seriously the recent abduction of Iranian border guards and intelligence officers from along the Pak-Iran border. Iran has publicly blamed unnamed hostile regional forces for the kidnapping. However, regional observers believe the incident could be a continuation of recent violence in the Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchestan and the border region with Pakistan between the sectarian militant group, Jaish-i-Adl, and the Iranian state. What matters first and foremost is for Pakistan to do its utmost to help recover the kidnapped security personnel and intelligence officers, either by locating them inside Pakistan or sharing intelligence with Iran of their presence in a neighbouring country. Timely and efficient intelligence cooperation, or a security operation if necessary, can help prevent diplomatic tensions from escalating. From Prime Minister Imran Khan to the military leadership in Pakistan, there is a consensus that friendly ties with Tehran should be maintained and enhanced; helping Iran locate and recover its abducted security and intelligence personnel would help maintain cooperative bilateral ties.
Certainly, while Pakistan should extend reasonable cooperation, Iran should recognise that securing the border between Balochistan and Sistan-Baluchestan is a joint responsibility. The vast border region between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan is exploited by myriad criminal groups, smuggling organisations and militant networks that move easily between the countries. In recent years, Pakistan and Iran have stepped up border security, but insurgent elements in Sistan-Baluchestan have proved tenacious and continued to attack Iranian forces. Militant groups such as Jaish-i-Adl, which could be responsible for the latest abductions, exist not necessarily because of a regional or international conspiracy against Iran, but due to the complex security environment in the region. Pakistan too continues to suffer attacks in Balochistan. Security officials believe these are either planned by a neighbouring country, or executed by militants who have found sanctuary there. Too often, regional and border security cooperation remains a relatively low priority until an incident causes tensions to flare up and senior officials on all sides rush in to firefight. Keeping lines of communication open is important as is regular engagement across the gamut of bilateral relations. Pakistan and Iran must maintain friendly ties because that is in their best interest.
Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2018