Chabahar Terror Attack ominous signs
Four policemen were killed and 42 other individuals were wounded in a suicide car bomb attack on a police headquarters in Iran’s port city of Chabahar on December 6. Police stopped the explosive-laden car and fired at the driver, who set of the explosion. While Iran’s Foreign Minister Javed Zarif has accused a foreign power of involvement without naming any country, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, the Sunni armed group Ansar al-Furqan has claimed responsibility for the attack. Ansar al-Furqan had also claimed responsibility for the bombing of an oil pipeline in Ahvaz city in Khuzestan province of Iran during the 2017-2018 Iranian protests.
India strongly condemned the Chabahar attack on the same day, the MEA statement saying, “India strongly condemns today’s despicable terrorist attack in Chabahar, Iran. We express our condolences to the Government and the people of Iran and the families of the victims of this attack. We wish speedy recovery to those injured. The perpetrators behind this dastardly attack should be brought to justice expeditiously. There can be no justification for any act of terror. We wish speedy recovery to those injured. The perpetrators behind the dastardly attack should be brought to justice expeditiously. There can be no justification for any act of terror.” India is developing the Chabahar port in Sistan-Baluchistan province of Iran in conjunction Iran and Afghanistan. It is crucial for trade amongst the three countries and considered the golden gateway for trade with Central Asian countries.
Raised in December 2013 with merger of Harkat al-Ansar and Hizbul Furqan, Ansar al-Furqan is designated terrorist organization by Iran, which has close links with Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad, Kaitabat al Asad Al Islamia, Al-Nusra Front or Jabhat –al-Nusra and Jaish ul-Adal. Chabahar had suffered a major terrorist attack in December 2010, when 41 people were killed and 90 others injured when a mosque suffered a suicide attack. On June 7, 2017, terrorists from the Islamic State of Iraq Levant (ISIL) had attacked Iran’s Parliament in Tehran and the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini killing some 18 and wounding more than 50.
On September 22, 2018, at least 29 people were killed and 70 others wounded in an attack on a military parade in of Ahvaz city according to Iran’s Fars News Agency, citing the deputy governor-general of Khuzestan province. The dead and wounded were both military members of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and civilians including a journalist who were watching the parade according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). Press TV, quoting .IRGC spokesman Ramezan Sharif alleged the attackers were affiliated with a terrorist group supported by Saudi Arabia, with Sharif saying, “The individuals who fired at the people and the armed forces during the parade are connected to the al-Ahvaziya group which is fed by Saudi Arabia”.
The September 22 and December 6 terror attacks on Iran’s military parade in Ahvaz and a police station in Chabahar needs to be viewed in backdrop of escalating tensions between the US and Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iran and the increasing instability in Pakistan and its export of terrorism. The US has restored sanctions on Iran; targeting Iran’s oil, banking and transport sectors and threatened more action to stop its oil export completely, which Iran has termed America’s “economic warfare” and has vowed to defy it.
Terror attacks from Pakistan into Iran are not new including attacks by the Jundallah based in Balochistan, Pakistan in concert with their counterparts in Sistan-Baluchestan in Iran. On October 18, 2009, a suicide bomber attacked a meeting in Pishin city of Sistan-Baluchestan, killing at least 43 including several IRGC commanders and injuring another 150. It was the Pakistan-based Jundallah that had claimed responsibility for the Pishin attack.
There is a view being floated that Pakistan army is seeking peace with India, because of its economic mess, and with Imran Khan giving the tacit hint that th2 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks were generated from Pakistani soil but that is hardly any change. Even Nawaz Sharif wanted perpetrators of 26/11 to be proceeded against, which set the military against him. Imran’s hint may just remain a hint, or at best the military may find a small time scapegoat to sidetrack from the big fish. For that matter, Pakistani army has never sought conventional conflict after initiating it in 1965, having never won a single war against India.
Historian Farzana Shaikh, author of ‘Making Sense of Pakistan’, has gone on record to say that with US and China not helping Pakistan with its debt repayment, Imran Khan’s visit and interaction with Saudi Arabia resulted in Pakistan lifting the ban on Ahl-e-Hadith groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and JeM that receive support from Saudi Arabia. Even before the impending installation of Imran Khan as the Prime minister of Pakistan, JeM was establishing a new terror training facility of massive scale in Bahawalpur. Therefore, export of terrorism by Pakistan will continue despite the overt pretenses of peace and camaraderie.
It may also be recalled that in an interview with Washington Post on March 22, 2018, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia stated that Saudi Arabia’s Western allies urged the country to invest in mosques and madrassas overseas during the Cold War, in an effort to prevent encroachment in Muslim countries by the Soviet Union. He added that successive Saudi governments had lost track of that effort, saying “we have to get it all back” and that funding now comes mostly from Saudi based “foundations,” rather than from the government. This is admission of the already known fact that spread of Wahabism by Saudi Arabia is continuing worldwide. To that extent, Saudi support to Pakistan will continue, both at official and unofficial levels.
To China, Pakistan is the strategic land-avenue to the Indian Ocean. The US needs Pakistan to sustain its forces in Afghanistan and so far has not indicated it would consider such sustenance through the Chabahar-International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC) because of strained US-Iran and US-Russia relations. Instability in Chabahar and Iran would suit the US whether it is through Pak-based terror groups like JeM or the ISIS/ISIL, latter being flush with US weaponry whether in West Asia or Afghanistan. Certainly, Chabahar is of vital concern to India, as its gateway to Iran-Afghanistan-CAR-Russia and beyond. However, increasing tensions between US-Iran and US-Russia are ominous.
The Chabahar terror attack, by and large, has been condemned globally, including very strongly by India, but that does not alter the Great Game in the region that now encompasses Iran. According to Farzana Shaikh, Pakistan requires united world attention more than “any other problem” but unfortunately such united thinking is in short supply at present. Addressing Pakistan cohesively, beyond mere economics, is needed but this is unlikely to happen at global level in the foreseeable future. Therefore, the alternative of like-minded bilateral and multilateral strategic partnerships must collectively focus on the issue.
By Lt. Gen Prakash Katoch