LAHORE: The growing terrorist activities of the Pakistan-based anti-Shia militant organization called Jundullah or Soldiers of God, threatens not only the Pak-Iran diplomatic ties but also the future of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, signed on May 22, 2009 by Pakistani President Asif Zardari and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran and described by the two leaders as the peace pipeline.
According to well-placed diplomatic sources in Islamabad, Tehran has lodged a strong protest with Islamabad over the failure of its law enforcement agencies to dismantle the Jundullah network in Pakistan which has claimed responsibility for the May 28, 2009 deadly suicide attack inside the Ameer al-Momenin mosque in Zahedan that killed 25 people and wounded 125 others. The sources said that having summoned the Pakistani ambassador to Iran Mohammad Bakhsh Abbasi to their foreign office in Tehran on May 30, 2009, the Iranian officials expressed their deep concern over the failure of the Pakistani authorities to proceed against the Jundullah network in Pakistan despite having been given specific intelligence information. The Pakistani ambassador was told that the Zahedan suicide attack could have been averted had Islamabad acted in time on the Iranian intelligence information.
The Iranian authorities reportedly told the Pakistani ambassador that the three terrorists (Haji Noti Zehi, Gholam Rasoul Shahi Zehi and Zabihollah Naroui), hanged publicly on May 30, 2009 in Zahedan for their participation in the mosque bombing, had confessed to illegally bringing explosives from Pakistan into Iran and giving them to the main person behind the suicide attack. The trio which belonged to Jundullah and had been arrested before Thursday’s bombing had confessed having provided the explosives for the mosque attack in Zahedan, the capital of Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan province which has for several years been the scene of a deadly insurgency by Jundullah, headed by Abdol Malek Rigi. The Zahedan province lies on a major narcotics-smuggling route from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Diplomatic circles in Islamabad say Tehran’s concern over the growing terrorist activities of Pakistan based Jundullah, across the border in Iran could be gauged from the fact that its ambassador to Pakistan Mashallah Shakeri had addressed an unusual press conference in Islamabad on March 20, 2009, accusing Pakistan in so many words of allowing its soil to be used against Iran and demanding concrete steps to contain its activities. While claiming that the Jundullah network was located inside the Balochistan province, Shakeri had asked Islamabad to curb its anti-Iran activities by taking a decisive action against its leadership. The Iranian ambassador had given broad hints at that time that an Iranian diplomat, who had disappeared in Peshawar in 2008, could also have been kidnapped by Jundullah, an al-Qaeda linked Sunni Islamic organization opposed to the Shia government in Tehran. In his reaction the same day, a Pakistani foreign office spokesman had stated that Islamabad was determined that Pakistani soil would not be allowed to be used by the Jundullah, in any manner, to destabilise the Iranian government.
However, the diplomatic circles in Islamabad say the Iranian authorities warned the Pakistani ambassador to Tehran on May 30, 2009 that Pakistan’s failure to act against the Jundullah network in Balochistan could also jeopardize the future of the recently signed Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project. They pointed out that the Pakistani and the Iranian Presidents had only signed the initial agreement after 14 years of delayed negotiations and the most crucial gas sales and purchase agreement has not yet been finalised. On the other hand, the Pakistani authorities in Islamabad do not rule the possibility of a third player aiding and abetting the anti-Iran activities of the Jundullah, with a view to damage the Pak-Iran ties and sabotage the peace pipeline project.
On the other hand, however, while asserting that the Pakistani law enforcement agencies were making all possible efforts to dismantle the Jundullah network from Balochistan’s soil, authoritative sources in the ministry of interior pointed out that the militant organization in question has actually stepped up its anti-Iran activities following the June 15, 2008 extradition of Abdul Hamid Rigi, the brother of Jundullah chief, Abdul Malek Rigi, from Pakistan to Iran. Rigi is now being tried by an Iranian court on terrorism charges.
The commitment of the Rigi brother to the so-called cause of Jundullah can be gauged from the fact that one of them - Abdul Ghafoor Rigi - opted to sacrifice him by executing a suicide car bombing on December 28, 2008, against the headquarters of Iran’s joint police and anti-narcotics unit in the Saravan city. The bombing was highly uncharacteristic of Jundullah’s previous operations and was intended to serve as an example for other militants within the Baloch nationalist movement to follow, in Iran and beyond.
Asked about the origin of Jundullah, the intelligence sources in Pakistan say the organisation ostensibly represents the Baloch nationality inside Iran, disaffected with the Tehran government. While being interrogated, the sources said, Abdul Hamid Rigi, the brother of Jundullah chief, had maintained that the group was formed to protect the rights of the Baloch in Iranian Balochistan-Sistan region. But the sources conceded the existence a Pakistani Jundullah, one of the several small though highly organised splinter groups to have emerged in the wake of 9/11 in different parts of the country.
Initially, patronised by late Taliban commander Nek Mohammad, the Pakistan chapter of Jundullah draws usually its cadre from anti-Shia jehadi and sectarian groups like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi which have turned their wrath on Pakistan after the avenues to vent their ire in Afghanistan and Jammu & Kashmir were thwarted by the changed circumstances. Lt Gen Ahsan Saleem Hayat, the former Corps Commander of Karachi was one of those high profile personalities to have been targeted by the Pakistan chapter of Jundullah way back on June 10, 2004, killing 11 including seven army personnel when his convoy was ambushed near the Clifton Bridge.
Highlighting Pakistani efforts to recover the Iranian diplomat kidnapped from Peshawar, the interior ministry sources said the Karachi police raided a Karachi locality - Shah Abdul Latif town in the Landhi area - on January 31, 2008 to retrieve the Iranian diplomat alive. In the ensuing battle, two policemen and five members of Jundullah were killed while 35 terrorists belonging to Jundullah, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan were arrested. However, the Iranian diplomat could not be recovered. The big catch was 27-year old Qasim Toori, one of the top Jundullah leaders and an ex-policeman who was wanted for unsuccessfully trying to kill the corps commander of Karachi in 2004 in which attack eleven other men were killed. Qasim Toori had one million rupees on his head.
Jandullah never left Karachi after 2004 and kept looting banks to finance its operations, targeting the Pakistan American Cultural Centre building, the Bible Society, and Gulistan-e-Jauhar police station. The Al-Falah Bank at Quaidabad was looted by them, killing five people. Interestingly, some of the Pakistani intelligence sources claim that Jandullah was created by the mastermind of 9/11 terror attacks, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, arrested in 2003 from Rawalpindi and handed over to the Americans, after which Jandullah went wild. Soon after the Karachi attempt on the corps commander, the police were able to apprehend a group of Jandullah terrorists headed by an Arab, Masoob Aruchi, who turned out to be a nephew of Khalid Sheikh with a million dollars on his head. He too was handed over to the United States which already had his other nephew Ramzi Yusuf serving a long sentence for attacking the World Trade Centre the first time around.
Jandullah was not without its support system in Karachi as it proceeded to avenge the arrest and handover of its mastermind after 2003. The support system in Karachi included two doctors. Dr Akmal Waheed, an orthopaedic surgeon, and his younger brother Dr Arshad Waheed, a heart specialist, were convicted in 2005 by an anti-terrorism court which sent them behind bars for 18 years on charges of “causing disappearance of evidence by harbouring and providing medical treatment to activists of banned Jandullah group”. There were protest marches in Karachi and Lahore by pious doctors when the two doctors were sentenced.
Talking to newsmen, the convicted brothers said they had expected such a verdict as “it was part of the government policy to appease the United States”. They said they would definitely file an appeal against the judgment in the Sindh High Court: “We believe Allah Almighty will do justice”. The court, however was convinced that the two had criminal involvement and had observed that the prosecution was able to prove that Dr Akmal provided treatment to a Jandullah terrorist who had suffered injuries during an attack on the Rangers, and that Dr Arshad had stealthily provided treatment to Qasim Toori, who was injured in the attack on the Karachi corps commander’s convoy. As Dr. Arshad Waheed was bailed out almost a year later, he subsequently got killed in a US missile attack in the Wana area of Waziristan on March 16, 2009.
A most significant fact was that a Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Al Zarqawi was treated by the same doctors in 2003 after he was brought in from the tribal areas in an injured state. Zarqawi had sustained his injury inside Afghanistan and was helped on behalf of the Pakistani Taliban Commander Nek Muhammad by a Waziristan personality who was elected to the National Assembly and is still playing an active role in politics. Zarqawi was able thereafter to cross into Iraq through Iran. But if Iran thought he was going to help fight the Americans it was mistaken. Zarqawi transformed himself into a sectarian polemicist and killed Shias together with the American troops.