Iran’s Jundallah Card
The confessional statement by Rigi that he was doing so under US patronage is suspected of having been extracted under duress.
Iran has long been blaming Washington for supporting Jundallah and other anti-government movements in the country. Apparently, Rigi was arrested enroute to Kyrgyzstan where he was to meet a high-ranking person at the Manas US military base. Rigi has disclosed US support for attacks within Iran — in shape of weapons, military equipment and funds — in return of helping free Jundallah prisoners. Rigi has also denied Jundallah’s separatist plans for the largely Sunni inhabited Baloch province. He claims to have taken up a violent means of struggle to draw attention to the plight of the Baloch Sunni minority that has been widely discriminated against by the government. Jundallah has claimed several dozens lives in terror attacks carried out over the past many years since its emergence on the scene in 2002. Besides suicide attacks and bombings, kidnapping of Iranian officers and government employees was a common occurrence.
So far, Rigi had eluded capture by slipping across the border into Pakistan. It even led to eruption of tensions with Islamabad, with Iran often pointing the finger at the Pakistan security establishment for aiding the organisation. The fact that Jundallah leader and members had cross-border ethnic-tribal linkages with sympathisers in Balochistan on the Pakistan side actually abetted their operations. The border between the two countries is not only porous and largely unmonitored but is monopolised by transnational organised crime groups running smuggling operations of illicit goods and narcotics. While the US has denied any links with Jundallah, Rigi’s statement is a serious charge, even if obtained in detention. The coming weeks might see more developments on this front, especially if Rigi is made to sing more. Iran itself is no stranger to the sponsoring of proxy groups. It has both covertly and overtly been sponsoring many groups in South Asia, Gulf and the Middle East. Despite this, it is likely that Iran will create a bigger fuss dragging US as a sponsor of anti-Iranian terrorists.
There is speculation that Pakistan may have had a hand in leaking information to the Tehran about Rigi. It may well be possible, given Islamabad’s concern about any deterioration in its relations with Iran, something it can ill afford with two of its other neighbours already on edge. Pakistan-Iranian cooperation in counterterrorism and border security has also been growing steadily.
While Rigi’s methods may not have been correct, the problem remains a fundamental sore Iran needs to tend to. Tehran has been lackadaisical at best towards its minority groups. Poorer provinces like Sistan-Balochistan are not accorded adequate funds and subjected to repressive policies. It is important for Iran to realise that no outside state can succeed in fomenting trouble where people’s rights are fully met and they enjoy political representation.