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-Tehran 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.
--The Persian Puzzle, Feb 24, 2010
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
B. Raman 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.