Pakistan, Iran border tensions

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Fissures caused by a recent attack on Iranian guards by Jaish-e-Adl members along the Pakistan-Iran border had threatened to chip away at the cordiality with which Islamabad and Tehran deal with each other bilaterally and multilaterally.

Since the beginning of this month Pakistani officials have made a few half-hearted gestures to reassure the Iranians that greater attempts would be made to stub out these threats and ensure they won’t recur. Tehran gave off diplomatic signs that it understood some of its neighbour’s constraints and helplessness against shadowy outfits and even appeared to have forgotten the episode.

But alas that was a diplomatic misreading of the case, because within days Iran’s top military officer, Major General Mohammed Baqeri, threatened to mount attacks on safe havens and sanctuaries of terror outfits even if these were located in Pakistan.

The warning — not too dissimilar from the one issued by another neighbour (Afghanistan) earlier — came with a set of instructions: Islamabad should control its side of the border, nab the terrorists linked to Jaish-e-Adl and shut down its bases. The threat was delivered at a rather inopportune time for Pakistan, when the country’s security forces were busy rebuffing a border incursion by Afghan forces.

After some delay, the Foreign Office summoned the Iranian envoy and conveyed its deep concern over the tone and tenor used by the Iranian general against Pakistan. The language of threats is best avoided among neighbours. The two sides could fall back on a host of recommended measures to tackle border irritants and the like. Perhaps the recently-constituted Pakistan-Iran border commission — which is to hold its maiden meeting this month — could help de-escalate the tensions.

The first task of the commission is to devise a workable border management plan that will curb illegal cross-border movement and combat drug trafficking. A tall order maybe but needed all the same.

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