Monday, July 19, 2010



"The Iranian authorities have been projecting the Jundallah as a surrogate of the US intelligence operating from sanctuaries in Pakistani territory. They have been alleging that the periodic terrorist strikes in Iranian Balochistan are being mounted from Pakistani territory. While they accuse the Pakistani authorities of inaction against the anti-Iranian Sunni elements operating from Pakistani territory, they have never accused the Baloch nationalist organisations of Pakistani Balochistan of backing the Jundallah. They have been suspecting the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), the anti-Shia organisation of Pakistan which is allied with Al Qaeda, to be training the suicide bombers of the Jundallah. Some of the statements attributed to the Jundallah are disseminated from London. This has created some suspicion in the minds of the Iranian authorities that the UK is also probably backing the Jundallah in its anti-Teheran activities. The capture of the Amir of the Jundallah is a major blow to this organisation. With the two brothers who were the moving spirit of this organisation now in the custody of the Iranian authorities, the organisation has definitely suffered a set-back at least temporarily. But the anti-Shia and anti-Teheran anger in Sunni Sistan-Balochistan is so intense and so widespread that it is only a question of time before a new leadership emerges. Ant-Shia organisations of Pakistan such as the LEJ would also see that the anti-Shia movement in the Sunni majority frontier areas of Iran is kept alive."

------- Extract from my article of February 24,2010, titled " Iranian Intelligence Captures Anti-Tehran Baloch Sunni Leader"available at


Iranian satisfaction over the arrest and execution of Abdolmalek Rigi, the Amir of the Iranian Jundallah, and his brother, Abdolhamid Rigi,who were in the forefront of the resistance movement in Iranian Balochistan known as Sistan Balochistan, has proved short-lived. The resistance movement was partly Sunni extremist directed against the Shias in Iranian Balochistan and partly Baloch nationalist directed against the members of the Iranian security forces deployed in the province.

2. Abdolhamid Rigi was reportedly arrested by the Pakistani authorities in 2008 and handed over to the Iranian authorities. Abdolmalek Rigi was captured by the Iranian intelligence towards the end of February last as he was travelling by air from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan. The plane was forced to land in an Iranian airport and he was taken into custody. It was reported that information about his plan to travel by this flight was passed on to the Iranian authorities by the Pakistani Government. After the capture of its Amir by the Iranian intelligence, the Jundallah announced that Muhammad Dhahir Baluch would act as the Amir in his place.

3.The Iranian authorities executed Abdolhamid Rigi in May last and Abdolmalek Rigi in June last. The two brothers were accused, inter alia, of being mercenaries of the US and Israeli intelligence. The Jundallah warned of retaliation against the Iranian and the Pakistani authorities. The retaliation came promptly---- first from the Lashksar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ) in Pakistan. On the night of July 1,2010, over 40 worshippers were killed in twin suicide blasts in a highly venerated sufi shrine of Lahore popularly known as Data Darbar. While there has been no authentic claim of responsibility for these blasts, the needle of suspicion pointed to its probably being an act of reprisal against the Pakistan Government by the Jundallah of Iranian Balochistan and the anti-Shia and anti-Iran Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ) of Pakistan in retaliation for the suspected collaboration of Pakistan with Iran in the arrest of Abdolmalek Rigi.

4. The retaliation against the Iranian authorities came on July 15, the birth anniversary of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Mohammad, when two suicide bombers blew themselves up at the time of the prayers in the Grand Mosque of Zahedan, the capital of the Sistan Balochistan province. Twenty-seven Shia worshippers, many of them officers of the Revolutionary Guards, were killed. A suspect dressed as a woman was stopped by the security authorities at the entrance for personal search. The person blew himself up. As people rushed to the area to help those injured, a second bomber blew himself up.

5.The Jundallah has claimed responsibility for the suicide explosions and has named the suicide bombers as Abdolbaset Rigi and Mohammad Rigi, both reportedly related to Abdolmalek Rigi. In a message sent to al-Arabiyya TV, Jundallah said it carried out the attacks to avenge the hanging of Abdolmalek Rigi. The Governor of the province, Mr. Ali Mohammad Azad, has blamed foreign intelligence services for the terrorist attack. He said in a statement: “It is obvious that the intelligence services of certain states and arrogant powers are behind the twin blasts outside the Zahedan Grand Mosque…. Enemies outside Iranian borders are making every effort to undermine Iran's security.”

6.President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was reported to have alleged at a Cabinet meeting on July 18 that US forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan were backing bombings such as the two suicide attacks and that the Pakistani Government was also accountable. ISNA, the State-owned news agency, quoted him as having told the Cabinet as follows: “If (US President Barack) Obama is unaware of actions of American forces, then we tell him that American forces based in Afghanistan and Pakistan back such actions. NATO and US forces back terrorists with equipment and funds to launch such attacks in Iran.Despite this support, the US President sends a message of sympathy.Islamabad must also be held accountable for such actions. We are friends of Pakistan and we are by its side, but at any rate the Government of that country should be accountable.” Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani told the Parliament the same day that the Pakistan Government must be answerable for the presence of evil people in its territory. The Chairman of Iran's Parliament National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, Mr. Alaeddin Boroujerdi, said on July 17 that Pakistan must be answerable for sheltering terrorists.
"Terrorism needs to be confronted more seriously.Given the fact that Pakistan is terrorists' shelter, Pakistani officials must be held accountable for the issue." Without naming Pakistan specifically, Mr.Ahmadreza Radan, Iran's deputy police chief, has issued a tough warning to “neighbors on the eastern borders” of Iran. He said: “The Islamic Republic considers it its right to deal with insurgents who disappear into the other side of the border.,”

7. From these statements and warnings, it is evident that the Iranian authorities suspect that the new leadership of the Jundallah was also operating from the Pakistani territory and that the two suicide bombers had come from Pakistani territory. They seem to suspect that the Jundallah continues to have its volunteers trained for suicide terrorism in Pakistani territory. In the past, they had accused the Jundallah of having links with Al Qaeda, without mentioning specifically the LEJ, which is an associate of Al Qaeda. It is likely that the LEJ continues to train the Jundallah in its camps in North Waziristan. The fact that the Jundallah suicide bombers, after training, are able to cross into Sistan Balochistan without being detected by the Iranian border guards speaks of some local support on both sides of the Pakistan-Iran border.Zahedan, with an estimated population of 5,80,000, is located near the border and is easily susceptible to suicide attacks and hit and run raids across the border from Pakistani territory. Iranian authorities periodically warn Islamabad they would undertake hot pursuit and cross-border raids, but avoid carrying out the threats lest it spoil their state-to-state relations with Pakistan and lead to more anti-Shia incidents in Pakistan. Sunni extremist organisations of Pakistan such as the Sipah-e-Sahaba and the LEJ tend to attack the Shias of Pakistan to express their anger against Iran. They look upon the Shias of Pakistan as the fifth columnists of Iran.

8. It is difficult to assess what support the Jundallah has inside Sistan Balochistan. However, it is evident from a study of its strikes so far that while it is in a position to indulge in sporadic acts of terrorism, it is not in a position to organise a sustained insurgency which could endanger the Iranian position in the province. ( 20-7-10)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )



The situation in Afghanistan differs in some significant aspects from the situation that had prevailed when the Soviet troops withdrew in 1988-89.

2.The Soviets had left in Najibullah a capable Pashtun leader who was a three-in-one---- a leader with good political instincts, a good military commander and a good intelligence professional who had headed the Khad, the then Afghan intelligence agency. He had the support of the Uzbeks headed by Rashid Dostum, but the Tajiks headed by the late Ahmed Shah Masood were against him and supporting the anti-Najib Pashtun Mujahideen groups.

3.In the months before the Soviet withdrawal, Moscow had transferred considerable responsibilities to Najib, who was handling the ground situation competently. He belied the expectations of the US that his Government and Army would collapse once the Soviets left. They didn't. On the contrary, he managed to consolidate his position on the ground and strengthened his links with the Awami National Party in the NWFP (now called Khyber-Pakhtoonkwa) and the Balochs under Khair Bux Marri. The ANP and the cadres of Marri became excellent providers of HUMINT for him. He not only survived, but beat back an ISI-instigated and led attempt by the Afghan Mujahideen to capture Jalalabad. The rout of the Mujahideen at Jalalabad led to the exit of Lt.Gen.Hamid Gul from the post of Director-General of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence ( ISI).

4.Najib survived for nearly four years. What ultimately led to his defeat and fall in April 1992 was his split with Dostum and the desertion of the Uzbek troops from the Afghan Army.

5.As contrasted with Najib, President Hamid Karzai has neither good political instincts nor military capability nor an aptitude for intelligence.The kind of operational responsibilities which the Soviets had entrusted to Najib, the Americans have not given to Karzai, who hardly plays any role in the command and control of the ground operations.The Soviets encouraged and trained local leadership.The US control over Afghanistan has not given scope for local leadership to assume effective command and control.

6. Mr.Karzai is inexperienced despite being in power for nearly eight years and may not be able to last long if he falls out with the Northern Alliance elements with whom his relations are even now hardly cordial.Once the Americans withdraw or considerably reduce their presence in Afghanistan, the chances of Mr. Karzai continuing to remain in power would depend upon the unity between him and the elements of the Northern Alliance. If the unity fails, the Tajiks and the Uzbeks will take over control of their respective ethnic areas as they did when the ISI-created Taliban captured Kabul in September 1996.

7. If this happens, we will revert to the de facto partition of Afghanistan that had prevailed between September 1996 and October 2001---- with the Pashtuns under the Taliban in control of the Pashtun areas and the Tajiks and Uzbeks in control of their areas. If the Tajiks and Uzbeks can retain control of Kabul this time, they will be in a slightly better position than they were between 1996 and 2001.We will face another bleeding stalemate with the Tajik-Uzbek combine and the Pashtuns having sufficient capability to make each other bleed, but not being able to prevail---one over the other.

8. The ability of one to prevail over the other would depend upon whether it is able to get air support. The Northern Alliance, which was not able to prevail over the Taliban till 9/11, managed to after 9/11 because of the US air support. The Taliban, which resisted the Northern Alliance till 9/11, collapsed thereafter because it did not have any air support. In the eventuality of another conflict between the Taliban on the one side and the Tajiks-Uzbeks on the other, the US would not give air support to the Tajiks-Uzbek combine. The Pashtuns are better fighters than the Tajiks and Uzbeks. They constitute about 20 per cent of the Pakistan Army. They can help the US in its war against Al Qaeda if they want to. The US would not like to antagonise them further than it has already done. The US would, therefore, remain neutral, making sure that no other external air power intervenes. History will repeat itself. The Tajiks and Uzbeks will look up to India, Iran and Russia for help. Iran would most probably respond positively. Russia too would, probably. India, unlike in 1997, may not be able to even if it wants because of its growing strategic dependence on the US. The scope for any role for external powers would thus be limited.

9. How the situation turns on the ground would depend on Al Qaeda now based in North Waziristan and its allies and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Neither was a player in the Af-Pak scenario before 1996. Al Qaeda has emerged as an important player after Osama bin Laden shifted to Afghanistan from the Sudan in 1996. The TTP has emerged as an important player after the Pakistani Army's commando action in the Lal Masjid of Islamabad in July 2007 during which a large number of Pashtun children were killed.Neither Al Qaeda nor the TTP is playing an important role in the ground situation in Afghanistan today. Al Qaeda has left command and control completely in the hands of the Afghan Taliban. The relationship between the Afghan Taliban and the TTP is strained. The Afghan Taliban looks upon the Pakistan Army as an ally. The TTP looks upon it as an adversary. Al Qaeda looks upon the Pakistan Army as apostate because of its co-operation with the US . As a result of these factors, the support of Al Qaeda and the TTP to the Afghan Taliban may not be whole-hearted.

10. As a result, we might find a triangular confrontation on the ground if and when the US-led NATO troops leave or thin themselves down. This confrontation would involve the Afghan Taliban supported by Pakistan, the Northern Alliance remnants supported by Iran and Russia probably and by India too possibly and the Al Qaeda-TTP combine without any external support. The Pashtun support will be divided. The Afghan Pashtuns will support the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistan Army. The Pakistani Pashtuns of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) will support Al Qaeda and its allies and the TTP.

11. The expectations that there will be a resurgence of the independent Pashtunistan movement as a result of the developments is a pipedream. The independent Pashtunistan movement has enjoyed support only among the Pashtuns of Khyber-Paktoonkwa and not among the Pashtuns of the FATA, who do not support it even today. The Pashtun community has prospered considerably in Pakistan. There are more Pashtuns in Karachi today than in Peshawar. The Pashtuns have emerged as a dominant community in certain parts of Balochistan, including Quetta. The Pashtuns and the Punjabis are the major beneficiaries of the development of the Gwadar area. The Pashtuns of Pakistan are beneficiaries of the NATO's involvement in Afghanistan. They control the truck business and are minting millions from the Americans by monopolising the movement of logistic supplies for the NATO troops from Karachi. The Pashtuns know they might lose all these benefits if they separate from Pakistan. They will keep shouting slogans for an independent Pashtunistan from time to time to scare the Pakistanis and to add to our pipedreams, but they don't want it.

12. How then will the triangular confrontation end? The Pakistan Army will ultimately succeed in making all the Pashtuns unite in support of its agenda. If and when that happens, the Tajiks and Uzbeks will make peace with them. India's options will be very limited. All we can do is clearly identify our objective allies and stick to them as long as possible in the hope that they would emerge as important players if not the dominant player, and support our interests. Our objective allies would be the Tajiks and the Pashtun supporters of the ANP and Mr.Karzai. The Uzbeks will be unpredictable. ( 19-7-10)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )