After deadly ambush on border patrol, Pakistan questions Iran’s writ


The attack on Pakistan’s paramilitary border force further clouds the country’s delicate relationship with Iran. Neither Islamabad nor Tehran can ignore security challenges along 1,165-kilometer shared border.
Pakistan’s southwestern border has become alarmingly volatile with back-to-back incidents of infiltration, kidnapping and more recently an ambush resulting in the death of its six paramilitary troops while injuring 14. On December 14, intense firing from the Iranian side along a mountainous stretch of road in Balochistan Province’s Kech district in Pakistan targeted a border patrol convoy of the Frontier Constabulary.[1] Besides confirming the death of its six soldiers, Islamabad claimed to have killed four of about 30 miscreants in the ensuing firefight. So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
On December 24, Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi held talks with his Iranian counterpart during a whirlwind tour to Tehran, similar to the one Javad Zarif paid on October 21 after 12 Iranian troops were abducted from a checkpoint in Sistan-Balochistan. The fresh border violation from Iran’s side was amongst the issues on the table. The border attack puts fresh strain an already delicate relationship between the two militaries.
Over a month past on November 14, Pakistan had announced to have handed over to Iran its five of the 12 troops, kidnapped by Baloch militant outfit Jaish al-Adl from Mirjaveh check-post on October 16.[2] For weeks, the two governments had shared intelligence and operational plans in preparation of a rescue operation. All hostages could not be rescued for kidnappers had separated them in two or more groups. Merely two days after Islamabad’s announcement, Iran’s Interior Abdol-Reza Rahmani-Fazli issued a tongue-in-cheek statement, vowing to conduct an operation for the release of remaining seven soldiers inside the Pakistani territory where he believes Iranian soldiers including two members of the IRGC are being held.
“As the interior minister and the person responsible for the country’s internal security, I announce that we are prepared to conduct operations in areas where terrorists are present in Pakistan, under the Pakistani side’s supervision and with their permission,” Abdol-Reza said.[3] Contrary to the public statement, Tehran has not taken matters into its hands and relies on Islamabad. Iran has been occasionally violating the Pakistani border, which involved Pakistan Air Force shooting down its drone[4] on June 20, 2017, and killing of at least one Frontier Constabulary troop on October 16 of the same year. There are also intermittent incidents of artillery fire reaching the Pakistani side.[5]
With the killing of Pakistani paramilitary troops, the Iranian state’s writ on its side of the border has come into question. Over the past fortnight since the armed intrusion into Pakistani side of Balochistan province, there has neither been a reported military operation nor any specific information released by the Iranian government. Contrary to Iran’s harsh public reaction to the kidnapping of its soldiers, Pakistan has opted to communicate only through the official channel and restrained from launching a media campaign.
The December 15 incident is being alleged as Jaish al-Adl’s act of revenge against Pakistan for its military operation to free Iranian troops but has chosen to not take the responsibility for its terrorist activities. Previously, the Balochistan Liberation Army has been attacking the troops but from the Pakistani soil. Currently, Jandullah or Jonbesh-e-Moqavemat-e-Mardom-e-Iran and Harkatul Ansar are the other prominent Baloch militant outfits active in Iran’s Sistan-Balochistan province. Besides, the Iranian province is home to operatives of Taliban, elements of al-Qaeda and even Indian intelligence agency – RAW – whose senior officer Commander Kulbushan Jadhav was arrested inside Pakistan on March 3, 2016, in possession of a valid Iranian visa stamped on his Indian passport.[6] Iran’s raising of Zainabiyoun Brigade[7] sometime in 2012, exclusively comprising Pakistani Shia mercenaries, had already alerted Islamabad about illicit activities across the Balochistan birder in the absence of due surveillance and security.
In February 2014, Iran and Pakistan had signed the agreement to share responsibility for combating drug smugglers and militants operating across the 1,165-km shared border and making it easier to extradite prisoners. However, it does not spell out a mechanism to deal with the non-state actors involved in murderous attacks like the one occurring earlier this month.
The presence of non-state armed actors, the killing of Pakistani troops and still-kidnapped Iranian soldiers pose a serious challenge to the security establishments on either side. In the foreseeable future, Islamabad and Tehran will continue to press each other for respective obligations to act against the militants responsible for attacking Frontier Constabulary’s border patrols, and for the release of Iranian soldiers from Jaish al-Adl.
While Pakistan prefers to maintain an even working relationship on border security with Iran due to Indian presence in Chabahar, it remains watchful of its neighbor’s intentions of pre-emptive strikes or border violations against what it may consider as Baloch militant hideouts. For Iran, Saudi Arabia’s investment in Gwadar port and mining in Balochistan, as well as renewed warmth between the United States and Pakistan, are matters of concern. Neither Pakistan nor Iran can risk their delicate relationship owing to violations of the 1,165-kilometer international border.
Apart from their different policies and interests in their respective Balochistan and along the Makran coast, the increasing frequency of border incursions and infiltration by militants and smugglers alike are compelling the two neighbors to forge closer cooperation on border security, intelligence-sharing and installing advanced surveillance infrastructure.

Six Paramilitary Soldiers Killed In Attack In Southwestern Pakistan, RFE/RL, December 14, 2018, (Accessed on December 27, 2018)
Naveed Siddiqui, Pakistani security forces recover 5 abducted Iranian guards, Dawn, November 15, 2018 (Accessed on December 27, 2018)
Iran says ready to fight terror on Pakistani soil, Press TV, November 17, 2018, (Accessed on December 27, 2018)
Iranian drone shot down by Pakistan, The News, June 21, 2017, (Accessed on December 27, 2018)
Shezad Baloch / AFP, Border violation: Iranian cross-border firing kills FC official, injures three others, The News,
October 17, 2014, on December 27, 2018)
Syed Ali Shah, ‘RAW officer’ arrested in Balochistan, Dawn, March 25, 2016, (Accessed on December 27, 2018)
Fahran Zahid, The Zainabiyoun Brigade: A Pakistani Shiite Militia Amid the Syrian Conflict, Jamestown Foundation, (Accessed on December 27, 2018)
Editorial Team