Prime Minister Imran Khan was in Iran on April 22, mending fences with Tehran over cross-border terrorism, which bothers both the countries. His statement that “Iran also suffered from terrorism from Pakistan” has upset many Pakistanis. Khan had also requested Tehran to stop the terrorists on its side, who recently killed 14 Pakistanis on the Karachi-Gwadar highway. The PPP-PMLN opposition in parliament and the media cried that Khan’s statement had put Pakistan at risk by admitting to terrorism.
There was nothing wrong with Khan’s “confession”. That the Iranian Baloch terrorists organise themselves in Karachi’s underworld is globally known. And that Pakistan has helped Iran capture members of the big terrorist outfit, Jundallah al-Adl, also is no secret. In fact, President Hassan Rouhani could have realised on hearing Khan that Tehran too needed to deal with the Pakistani Baloch rebels who flee into Iran. (Khan didn’t mention Kulbhushan Jadhav.) Secessionism could create a sovereign Greater Balochistan by breaking up both Iran and Pakistan.
The case that allowed PM Khan to “confess to terrorism” in Tehran is interesting. Abdolmalek Rigi, the head of Jundallah al-Adl, was born in Sistan-Balochistan province in Iran in 1983, from the Regi tribe of Baloch ethnicity. He was a teenager when he founded his outfit. He never went to school but fled across the border to Karachi where he joined the infamous Jamia Banuria, the madrassa where the UN-accused terrorist Masood Azhar was trained. Pakistan cannot absolve itself from the guilt of allowing this nursery of anti-Shia terrorism to train killers who today threaten the state of Pakistan. Banuria’s chief, Mufti Shamzai, was killed by a Shia youth.
Pakistan’s indifference about Rigi is questionable and Imran Khan is clearly bothered by that. Read this: “US cable channel HDnet’s television news magazine Dan Rather Reports, interviewed Rigi and showed a video of him personally cutting off his brother-in-law Shahab Mansouri’s head. In the same interview, Rigi described himself as ‘an Iranian’ and denied that his goal is to form a separate Baloch state. He claimed that his goal is to ‘improve conditions for the ethnic Baloch [in Iran]’, and that his group is fighting exclusively for the rights of Sunni Muslims in Iran.”
When the Persian service of Voice of America, in 2007, introduced Rigi as “the leader of popular Iranian resistance movement” and used the title of “Doctor” with his name, there was public condemnation by the Iranian-American community in the US, many of whom were opponents of the Iranian government. Pakistan still sat back and allowed him to muster his group in Karachi and Balochistan.
In 2010, Pakistan woke up or changed policy. A Tehran-based news analysis site disclosed that “Rigi was arrested by, or with the help of, Pakistani intelligence officials, who took action after consulting with the United States”. Pakistan’s ambassador to Tehran, Mohammad Abbasi, also claimed that “the arrest could not happen without Pakistan’s help”. On May 24, 2010, Abdulmalek’s brother, Abdolhamid Rigi, too was executed.
The PMLN opposition, now beating their chests over Imran Khan’s “confession”, should recall what happened to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif when he told the Pakistan army in 2016 that harbouring terrorists and training them was isolating Pakistan. This appeared in the infamous Dawn leak that finally got rid of the prime minister. Reporter Cyril Almeida, now taken off his job, revealed what Pakistan’s foreign secretary had told the Sharif-ISI meeting: “Mr Aizaz Chaudhry stated that the completion of the Pathankot investigation and some visible action against Jaish-e-Mohammad were the principal (American) demands. Chaudhry suggested that while China had reiterated its support for Pakistan, it too indicated a preference for a change in course by Pakistan. Specifically, while the Chinese authorities have conveyed their willingness to keep putting on technical hold a UN ban on Masood Azhar, they have questioned the logic of doing so repeatedly.”
Under Imran Khan, Pakistan has developed a consensus — not without input from China — of getting rid of the “terrorists” trained and sheltered by it. Without this consensus, Khan wouldn’t have “made a clean breast” of it like that in Tehran.
This article first appeared in the print edition on May 11, 2019, under the title ‘A confession in Iran’. The writer is consulting editor, Newsweek Pakistan.