Saturday, March 3, 2007

Tehran’s Troubles in the Border Regions

February 27, 2007

20 soldiers and senior officers of the elite Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) were killed in a helicopter crash during an operation against PJAK, an Iranian Kurdish armed group based in northern Iraq/western Iran border region (IRNA). PJAK announced that a Brigadier General who commanded the IRGC forces in the region was among the dead. Earlier in the week, a bomb blast tore through a bus in Zahedan, near Iran-Pakistan border, killing 12 members of IRGC. The Iranian government identified Jundallah as being responsible for that attack. Jundallah, an Iranian Baluchi armed group, operates in Iranian Baluchistan, on Iran-Pakistan-Afghanistan border region. Few days later, four Iranian police were kidnapped and two killed after an ambush by Jundallah militants in Iranian Baluchistan (ISNA).

In the past two years the armed clashes between IRGC and PJAK and Jundallah forces have escalated to an unprecedented level. PJAK claims that it has killed more than 150 members of IRGC in 2005 and 2006, including a daring attack on an IRGC convoy in April 2006 which left 24 Guardsmen dead. Jundallah has claimed responsibility for the abduction and death of tens of IRGC members in the same period. In March 2006, the group killed 22 people, including the officials of Baluchistan provincial government. Tehran, on its part, has vowed to pursue the Kurdish rebels inside Iraq and the Jundallah across the border with Pakistan. PJAK is gaining strength among a new generation of younger Kurds who are drawn to it by its insistence that it adheres to democratic principles and its lack of interest to call for an independent Kurdistan. PJAK claims that its goals are the overthrow of Iran’s government and the establishment of a democratic and federal government. Jundallah’s goals are not as clearly stated. Its leader has said recently that the group’s goals are improving the life of Iranian Baluchis and establishing a federation of Iran and Baluchistan within a democratic state.

Tehran accuses both of simultaneously being Al Qaeda affiliates and CIA operatives. Tehran, however, fails to recognize that the issues facing the country in Kurdistan and Baluchistan, and other border regions, are indeed political. Notwithstanding any foreign intervention to enlist local groups to advance their own agenda, it must be apparent to all Iranians that there is indeed a rising resentment among the mainly Sunni Baluchis and Kurds for being subjected to discrimination based on their religion and tribal/national origins. The low standards of living in both Kurdistan and Baluchistan are seen as a proof of such discrimination. Linking PJAK and Junollah to foreign powers will not resolve problems in the border regions.

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