23 May 2019

Pakistan and Iran to form rapid reaction force along border area

KONFRONTASI- Pakistan and Iran will establish a joint border security force to respond to an uptick in violence along the countries' shared border, the Iranian president has announced, as Pakistan's prime minister concludes a two-day visit to the Iranian capital.

Last week, at least 14 Pakistani security forces personnel were killed in a bus ambush that the Pakistani government blamed on Iran-based armed groups.

The incident came after a February attack in eastern Iran that killed at least 27 Iranian security personnel that Iranian authorities said was carried out by the Pakistan-based Jaish al-Adl group.

Border security was top of the agenda for Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan's visit to Tehran, where he met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

"Both countries [have] agreed to set up a joint rapid reaction force that will be operating on the borders of the two countries to fight terrorism," said Rouhani at a joint press conference following the talks.

Khan pledged that his government would not allow Pakistani soil to be used by armed groups against any country.

"We will not allow any militant groups to operate from our soil," he said. "This government for the first time in Pakistan's [history] is dismantling any militant group in our country".

Khan said he made the trip to Pakistan's southwestern neighbour because he felt that increasing cross-border security incidents could drive a wedge between the two countries.

"I felt the issue of terrorism was going to increase differences between our countries, so it was very important for me to come here and come with our security chief, so that we resolve this issue."

'Border region easy for groups to be active'

On Thursday, Pakistan's foreign office issued a strongly worded letter to Tehran accusing Iran of "inaction" against ethnic Baloch separatist groups allegedly based in Iran. An alliance of those groups, the Baloch Raaji Aajoi Sangar (BRAS), claimed responsibility for last week's bus attack.

On Saturday, an organisation representing the families of Iranian victims of attacks issued a letter demanding that Khan ensure greater action is taken against armed groups operating in Pakistan.

"These actions have been continually going on for several years, and, unfortunately, no serious action has been taken on the part of Islamabad to prevent them," read the letter from the Habilian Association, the Iranian Fars news agency reported.

In February, Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, a senior Iranian security official, said Pakistan "must account" for attacks on Iranian security forces near the border, and accused Saudi Arabia, Iran's regional rival and a key Pakistani ally, of supporting those groups.

Iranian authorities say the Jaish al-Adl and Jundullah armed groups have been operating from Pakistani soil with impunity, targeting Iranian security and government targets, mainly in Sistan-Balochistan province.

Analysts say Pakistani leaders would have worked hard during the two-day visit to establish cooperation with their Iranian counterparts on the issue.

"It cannot be in Pakistan's interest, in any way, [for attacks to occur], even if Pakistan is very stupid," said Zahid Hussain, an Islamabad-based security analyst. "This is not in any way helpful for anyone."

Hussain said that Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan province, which border's Iran's Sistan-Balochistan province, is a large, sparsely populated area that is difficult to police.

"It is a vast area and the control over the area is difficult, it makes it easy for groups to be active on both sides," he said.

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