A day before the attack on a CRPF convoy at Awantipora, Pulwama in which at least 40 jawans of the paramilitary force were killed — there was an almost identical attack in Iran’s Sistan-Balochistan province, which borders Pakistan.
While there are no apparent connections between the two, there is no denying that the two groups — Jaish ul Adl and Jaish-e-Mohammed – that have each claimed responsibility for the respective attack are ideologically linked. Both have been mentored in Pakistan and both are based in Pakistan.
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The Kashmir attack was claimed by the Jaish-e-Mohammad, a group that is known to operate from Bahawalpur in Pakistan, and that was set up under ISI patronage by Masood Azhar after his ISI-Taliban-negotiated release by India at Kandahar in return for the Air India IC 814 hostages in 1999.
In the Iran attack that the Jaish ul Adl claimed responsibility for, a suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into a bus carrying troops of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an elite arm of the Iran armed forces, killing 27 and injuring several on the bus. The attack took place near a town called Zahedan, close to the Iran-Pakistan border.
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The Jaish ul Adl is a successor of the Sunni sectarian organisation Jundullah, which was hitting Iranian targets from bases in Balochistan. After its leader Abdul Malik Riggi was captured by Iranian security forces and hanged in 2010, Jundullah remnants came together as JuA under the leadership of Mullah Omar (not the Taliban leader) and Salahuddin Farooqi, both shadowy figures about whom little is known.
Unlike separatist and nationalist Baloch militant groups in Pakistan, Jundullah, JuA and other extremist Sunni sectarian groups such as Sipah Rasoolallah target Shia Iran on religious grounds. Sunni sectarian groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which operate in Pakistan’s Balochistan target Shia minorities in the province and have also picked on other secular targets, have flourished in the region in the shelter provided by Afghan Taliban strongholds in and around Quetta.
Much like India has been asking Pakistan to shut down Jaish-e-Mohammed, Iran accuses Pakistan of sheltering the JuA and has repeatedly asked Islamabad to crack down against it.
In a thinly veiled statement after the attack, the Iranian foreign ministry said the group “receives military, financial and intellectual support from certain regional states”, hinting both at Saudi and Pakistan backing for the group.
On Thursday, the same day as the attack in Kashmir, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Commander Mohammad Ali Jafari issued a statement vowing revenge for the attack on his troops. He asked Pakistan to shut down all such groups targeting Iran, and said their actions were hurting Iran-Pakistan relations.
There is no overt connection between the Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Jaish-ul-Adl, but both are Sunni extremist groups, seen as closely linked to the Taliban. The Indian security establishment believes the JuA is actually a front of the Lashkar-e-Taiba. and that both, LeT and JeM, are working with and learning from the Taliban, and the Haqqani network in Afghanistan.
That both JeM and JuA should deploy the well-known Taliban method of suicide car bombings points to the complex jihadist networks working to destabilise the region. Iran and India both have reason to be nervous about Pakistan-aided US-Taliban talks.