This article was emailed by the author on 17 April. It is an interesting co-incidence that the Government of Pakistan has adopted the same prescription for Pak-Iran border security that is given by the author.
PAKISTAN and Iran both suffer a perilous security environment along their border. Left to its own device, it will continue to harm both. The economic importance of Iran’s Sistan-Balochistan has risen due to Chabahar. The economic importance of Pakistan’s Balochistan has risen due to Gwadar. As conduits of trans-Eurasian connectivity, Pakistan and Iran’s territories are irreplaceable. It is for this very reason that Pak-Iran relations have been subjected to hybrid war assaults by those whose interests run contrary to the interests of both Iran and Pakistan; namely the US, Israel and India. Indo-US policies in the region harm Pakistan while Indo-Israeli-US spy activities along Pak-Iran border harm Pak-Iran relations.
India pitches Chabahar as Gwadar’s competitor to engineer a strategic environment that makes terrorism along Pak-Iran border appear as manifestation of dichotomous economic interests of Pak-Iran governments. In reality, Pakistan and Iran are critical to each other’s economic well-being. Chabahar Port compliments and supplements Gwadar. It is a competitor only for India, whose regional relationships are bogged in New Delhi’s inability to resolve territorial disputes with neighbours.
Unable to use CPEC, or transit to Central Asia through Pakistan, it is India only that uses Chabahar in an exclusive manner. Here too, India’s advantage is limited because Iran has invited Pakistan to utilize Chabahar for commercial linkage to Eurasia. In due course, Pakistan will inevitably link to Chabahar. Tehran and Islamabad are cognizant that they are both victim of terrorism, cunningly carried out by third parties covertly operating in their areas. This cognizance must be translated into policy.
Terrorism along Pak-Iran border rose in 2003 and has been increasing in intensity ever since. It seems to have renewable resources. After the Pakistani intelligence helped Iran arrest Jundullah’s leader Abdulmalek Riggi in 2010, terrorism resurfaced in 2012 and announced itself as Jaish-al-Adal. Riggi had confessed to being trained by Pentagon in Afghanistan. Later, Pentagon sources claimed it was actually Israel’s Mossad agents who dressed up as US Army to hobnob with Riggi. The information from both Riggi and the US confirms that Mossad and CIA operate in the area. Indian spy Kalbhoshan was operative in Pak-Iran border area. The recent spate of violence in Sistan-Balochistan on February 13 caused the death of 27 Revolutionary Guards, and injured more than a dozen. It was followed a day later by an insurgent attack in Pulwama, where Kashmiris are fighting Indian occupation. India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj went to Iran with the allegation that Pakistan masterminded both the attacks. Though Iran had just suffered a terrible tragedy, it did not indulge India on this.
The security environment along border of Iran’s Sistan-Balochistan and Pakistan’s Balochistan facilitates false flag operations. Pakistan and Iran have two choices. Continue to suffer and conduct unilateral raids, potentially developing into skirmishes against each other, or think outside the box. Hybrid war fare requires dynamic defence because offence rests on knowledge of the status quo. The reason terrorism failed to sustain in the border areas of newly independent Central Asian Republics is due to the developed infrastructure along border areas, bequeathed by the USSR.
Pak-Iran border areas need to be taken out of the hands of rural administrations and abject poverty. Security requires modern infrastructure. Due to being cash strapped, Pakistan and Iran cannot develop their bordering provinces in entirety in a short period. However, both can earmark area along their border, up to a certain square kilometres, and design a system of security to be administered jointly therein. Development of a smaller area is easier. Technology can help Iran and Pakistan design a security system that allows simultaneous intelligence gathering and joint response. Joint security activity supported by developed infrastructure will frustrate enemy’s design of utilizing the cloak of poor infrastructure to covertly undertake activity that is noticed only after it has happened. Pakistan and Iran should earmark the length and breadth of areas within their bordering territories, whose security both will administer together. Rapid development should be undertaken in the area with not only security as consideration but related services also for durable security. Multiplier effect would lead in due course to the upgrading of services in the larger Baloch areas inside Iran and Pakistan. Border fencing amidst poverty and poor infrastructure will remain vulnerable to hybrid war wagers, who can destroy the security of a whole region with little capital input through terrorism. Intelligence sharing has failed to prevent terrorism. Across border raids by Iran and Pakistan result in the death of each other’s personnel, counterproductive for two States that are not enemies because these can potentially develop into border skirmishes.Saudi Arabia is going to make significant investment in CPEC. As the KSA starts to invest in Pakistan, the extra regional spy agencies will have the opportunity to raise the false flag of Saudi backed terrorism in the security void along Pak-Iran border. This will be a dangerous and potentially very costly situation for all three countries currently in the throes of hybrid warfare; KSA, Pakistan and Iran. A security policy is needed to ward off such a danger.
— The writer is Executive Director at Pakistan’s People Led Disaster Management.