On October 25th, an Iranian soldiers were ambushed by terrorists in the Baluchistan province adjacent to Pakistan. Approximately fourteen troops died. This led the government of Iran to hang sixteen rebels in the capital city of Baluchistan, Zahedan. Mohammad Marzeih, the regional attorney general framed these hangings as revenge killings, stating to the Fars News Agency, “Sixteen rebels linked to groups hostile to the regime were hanged this morning in the prison of Zahedan in response to the death of border guards.” This situation has a complex background that America must recognize before acting with the factions in this area of operations.
The border region between Iran and Pakistan has been rife with armed tension. An insurgent Sunni organization, Jundallah, has plagued the Iranians for several years. A newer terrorist organization, Jaish al-Adl or Army of Justice, has recently appeared on the scene. BBC Analyst Kasra Naji described them as, “a hardline Sunni group that says it is fighting for the rights of Sunnis in predominantly Shia Iran and for the rights of the Baluch ethnic minority.” In propaganda videos, the Army of Justice has incorporated the black flag of Al-Qaeda as a recruitment tool for their armed struggle. Drug smugglers often cross the border and do not hesitate to use force against guards. In addition, Kurds have agitated for more autonomy in the north. This conflict has led the AFP News Agency to estimate that over 4,000 Iranian police and military soldiers have died on the border within the last thirty years. As of now, it appears that the Army of Justice initiated the lethal ambush on October 25th, but the executed terrorists were members of Jundallah. Previous incidents that parallel this case included a bombing at a Shia funeral in December 2010, leading to eleven members of Jundallah being hung at the Zahedan prison in reprisal. Furthermore, the clandestine Pakistani ISI, with its complex bureaucracy, may be playing all sides to preserve the sovereignty of Pakistan. Ethnic and religious tension has led the borders between Pakistan and Iran to be filled with conflict.
But what should America’s response be? According to David Blair of The Telegraph in 2007, “Iran has repeatedly accused America, Britain, and Israel of arming and training Jundallah.” Later in 2010, Iranians captured Jundallah leader Abdolmajid Rigi and forced him to confess on television that, “They [Americans] promised to help us [Jundallah] and they said that they would co-operate with us, free our prisoners and would give us military equipment – bombs, machine guns – and they would give us a base.”
While this confession appeared to be forced, Iran framed America’s policy as being ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend.’ So how should America modify its strategy with the nuclear clock of Iran winding down? I would approve a dual track strategy based on interdependent decision making with the Iranians. If the Iranians use restraint with their nuclear program and President of Iran Hassan Rouhani continues to cooperate, America could work with them against the Al-Qaeda threat represented with Jaish al-Adl. This would co-opt the Iranians into our strategic geopolitical security interests for the Middle East. If the Iranians accelerate their nuclear program and it is discovered they are making a weapon of mass destruction, however, then America can support the Jundallah, and claim that we are supporting self-determination, human rights, and religious freedom in Iran. America can use these border conflicts to further its self-interests in the Middle East.
“Iran hangs 16 rebels ‘in reprisal for border deaths’.” BBC. October 26, 2013. Accessed November 4, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-24682729?print=true.
“Iranian border guards killed in clash with ‘bandits’ near Pakistan border.” The Guardian. October 26, 2013. Accessed November 4, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/26/iranian-guards-killed-bandits-pakistan.
Baloch, Sanaullah. Blog. Accessed November 4, 2013. http://sanaullahbaloch.webs.com/publications.htm.
Blair, David. “Iran hangs 16 prisoners after guards killed near Pakistan border.” October 26, 2013. Accessed November 4, 2013. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/10406372/Iran-hangs-16-prisoners-after-guards-killed-near-Pakistan-border.html.
PBS Tehran Bureau. “US Designates Iran’s Jundallah as Terrorist Organization.” Frontline. Accessed November 4, 2013. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2010/11/ashtiani-lives-another-day-security-cleansing-for-subsidy-cut-obedience.html.
Roggio, Bill. “Iran contradicts itself over claims of US support for Jundallah.” Threat Matrix, Blog of the Long War Journal. http://www.longwarjournal.org/threat-matrix/archives/2010/02/iran_contradicts_itself_over_c.php.