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Who is Supporting Jundullah’s Terror Campaign and Why?

Balaji Chandramohan is editor of World Security Network for Asia.
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  • November 06, 2009

    On October 18, 2009, a suicide attack killed 42 people in the province, including members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and injured another 150. Jundallah - the rebel Sunni organization, claimed responsibility for the attack which was confirmed by the Iranian intelligence agency. The group is fighting for the rights of Iran's roughly 4 million Balochs, who, it claims, have been suppressed by the Shi’ite regime in Tehran.

    The October 18 attack was the second largest attack carried by Jundallah this year. Earlier, on May 28, a suicide bomber blew himself up inside the Ameer al-Momenin mosque in Zahedan, capital of Iran's Sistan-Balochistan province, killing 25 people. This attack was to protest against a regime-imposed festival to mark the martyrdom of the Prophet’s daughter Fatima - an ancient dispute between the Shias and Sunnis. The Zahedan attack itself followed months of other subversive activities by Jundullah inside Iran's Sistan-Balochistan, including the kidnap of 21 Iranian truck drivers in August 2007 into Pakistan, the kidnap of Iranian border troops 16 of whom were executed on camera in December 2008, and the first suicide bombing in Iran's history in December 2008. Jundullah’s hand was also suspected in the November 2008 kidnap of an Iranian diplomat in Peshawar.

    Iran has accused Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States of engaging in covert funding of the Jundallah. Iranian Interior Minister Heydar Moslehi has said that Iran has given credible proof of the ISI’s involvement in the attack carried on October 18. Evidently, Pakistan would benefit from fuelling Sunni sectarian violence in Sistan-Baluchistan for three reasons. One, though Iran and Pakistan have maintained friendly official ties, Pakistan’s Sunni Taliban extremists have long resented the Shia regime. The Shi’ite-Sunni sectarian divide between Pakistan and Iran, which was obvious during the Afghan civil war in which both sides supported their respective proxies (the Taliban by Pakistan and the Hazaras, Tajiks and Uzbeks by Iran), persists to date and Pakistan’s support for Jundullah is seen by Iran as an extension of this game. In fact, the mastermind of the September 11 attacks in the United States, Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, is a Baluch from Pakistan who is alleged to have had ties to radical Sunni Baluch groups some of which have assimilated into the Jundullah. Pakistan’s track record of supporting jihadist forces in its quest for regional influence indicates that it is unlikely to shy away from supporting the Jundullah against Iran.

    Secondly, sectarian violence could be a means to weaken Iran’s position in negotiations on the nuclear issue, with Pakistan doing the American bidding and earning brownie points with the United States in the process. Third, Pakistan as a Sunni majority nation would be interested in containing the rise of the Shias headed by Iran. This also ties in well with the interests of Arab countries and Saudi Arabia in particular which fears the rise of Iran as an alternative power in the region. Evidently, Sunni Arab states are worried about Iran’s rising influence in regional affairs as evident from Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine. And they decry Iran’s growing influence in "Arab affairs". Recently, Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states accused Iran of meddling in Yemen where the Shia population has been protesting against the Sunni regime. Saudi Arabia has been actively pushing back against Iran, for example by funding the March 14 coalition against the Iran-backed Hezbollah coalition in Lebanon’s recent parliamentary elections. In this context, support by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and other Sunni nations for Sunni extremism aimed at Iran makes sense.

    Jundallah is based in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province and is active in the Baluchi areas of Iran and Pakistan as well as in Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan. From its base in Pakistan’s Baluchistan, Jundallah has had opportunities to forge cooperative ties not only with the ISI but also with the Taliban as well as with the intelligence services of other countries interested in stoking anti-Iranian activism. Saudi Arabia's intelligence service in particular has had long-standing collaboration with the ISI as well as a track record of dealing with Sunni Islamist groups operating out of Pakistan. Moreover, it appears that the Obama administration may have inherited the Bush administration sponsored Central Intelligence Agency role in supporting Iran's Baluchi, Kurdish and Arab minorities to undermine the Iranian Republic. Though Washington was quick to condemn the October 18 attack as an “act of terrorism,” it is not clear whether the Obama administration has scrapped the George W. Bush policy especially considering that supporting the Jundullah provides it with a rare leverage in dealing with Iran.