Complicated, the matter is
One more country has joined the queue. “We have heard,” said Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Iran’s president, “that certain officials in Pakistan cooperate with main agents of these terrorist attacks in the eastern part of the country.”
The Iranian government summoned the Pakistani charge d’affaires in Teheran and protested against the use of Pakistani territory to launch the terrorist attack against Iran. The co-ordinated double strike at a Shia-Sunni reconciliation meeting in Sistan-Baluchestan province killed several tribal leaders and a number of senior military officers of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Jundollah, a Pakistan-based Baloch-Sunni rebel group, claimed responsibility. Mr Ahmedinejad accused the Pakistani military establishment of supporting Jundollah. Ali Larijani, an influential Iranian leader and speaker of parliament, went further and called the attack “an outcome of US measures”.
Both Pakistan and the United States have denied responsibility for the attack. There is very little in the public domain about Jundallah. It does not help that there is another Pakistani Sunni outfit—possibly a joint venture of Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen—by the name and which has figured in attacks within Pakistan. Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett write that “many experienced observers of US intelligence activities in Central and South Asia believe that US intelligence agencies have their own ties to Jundallah.”
There are several explanations for the attack: first, it was an attack by the Balochi-Sunni extremists against the Persian-Shia state. Second, it was an attack on the Republican Guard by Iranians opposed to the Khamenei-Ahmedinejad faction. Third, the Pakistan Taliban (TTP) instigated it to destabilise Pakistan’s relations with Iran by precipitating a crisis. Fourth, it was carried out at the behest of the United States to keep Iran under pressure. Fifth, it could well have been instigated by Iran’s Middle Eastern Arab-Sunni rivals—with the Pakistani military establishment acting as the midwife. Many of these explanations overlap.
In any event, there will be new pressure on the Pakistani government to act against anti-Iranian groups in Pakistan. While there is likely to be less public outrage in Pakistan against Iranian accusations, a crackdown against anti-Iranian groups—to the extent that the Pakistani government launches one—will risk a sectarian backlash. The likes of the Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and other Sunni jihadi groups would target Pakistan’s Shia minority, not least in Sindh and Gilgit-Baltistan. Unless Iran is satisfied with mere promises of action, Iranian angle will add to Pakistan’s domestic woes.
It also complicates the relationship between the United States and Iran. Teheran will find itself in a dilemma: to counter what some see as a US campaign to destabilise the Iranian regime or to co-operate with US forces to tackle the Sunni jihadi threat emanating from Pakistan.