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22 Apr, 2019 09:03

Iranian President Rouhani declares joint border ‘reaction force’ with Pakistan

Iranian President Rouhani declares joint border ‘reaction force’ with Pakistan

Iran and Pakistan to create a joint ‘reaction force’ on the border between the two countries, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said.

The announcement came during a two-day visit to Iran by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, the first of his tenure.

Iran and Pakistan share a 959km land border. Tehran has been complaining for years about recurring attacks by Pakistani militants on Iranian security forces, with the latest episode reported in February.

The future force, which was announced by the two leaders during a joint media conference after a meeting, is intended to boost border security and foster bilateral ties.

The remote border area has many mountains and is difficult to control. Extremist groups, based on both sides of the border, have been causing trouble for Iranians for quite some time, but Pakistani authorities see them as a problem as well, Vladimir Sazhin, senior research fellow at Russia’s Institute for Oriental Studies, told RT. So it’s quite natural for the two nations to coordinate their efforts in this area.

“Both sides would benefit from it,” he said. “I don’t expect it to be a separate force per se but rather a mechanism for sharing intelligence on what is happening in the area… Iranian border forces won’t tolerate a Pakistani command and Pakistani forces won’t tolerate an Iranian command. It will be a consultative body, I believe.”

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Iran and Pakistan have a good foundation of past cooperation to build upon in boosting border security, said Dr. Khuram Iqbal, a terrorism expert and an assistant professor at the National Defense University in Islamabad.

“Both countries have the will to act jointly to deal with the issue of cross-border terrorism. It has happened in the past. When militant organizations conducted attacks inside Iran, Iran shared actionable intelligence with Pakistan. Pakistan acted swiftly and helped Iran to nab the culprits,” he told RT.

One better-publicized example is the capturing of the commander of the Jundallah group, Abdolmalek Rigi, in 2010. He was arrested by Pakistani authorities and handed over to Iran, Iqbal said. Another more recent example was the rescue of five abducted Iranian border guards by Pakistani forces last year. The Pakistanis acted on intelligence provided by Iran, the expert said.

In addition to local insurgency, the border area also serves as a major conduit for trafficking of various sorts, said Iftikhar Lodhi, assistant professor at Nazarbayev University’s Graduate School of Public Policy. Some of it is purely criminal in nature, dealing in drugs or humans. Some has political component in the sense that the area is used by militants to travel between Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan.

“Any effective control of the border would require a highly significant amount of human and financial resources which both countries can’t afford,” he said.

The February suicide bombing attack killed 27 members of the Revolutionary Guards in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan province. Rouhani last month demanded decisive actions from Pakistan to crack down on “anti-Iranian terrorists” on its territory.

The Sunni jihadist group Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice), which Tehran accused of perpetrating the bombing against its armed forces, is blamed by Pakistan for targeting its troops in its own Balochistan province last week. The attackers killed 14 members of the security forces. Pakistani officials said the group’s base of support extends into the Iranian border territory where the militants have “training and logistic camps”.

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