Who supports Jundallah?
by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles
22 Oct 2009 04:06
[ analysis ] On Oct. 18, 2009, the Jundallah (God's Brigade) terrorist group mounted two terrorist attacks inside Iran's Sistan-Baluchestan province. One was a suicide attack, and the other was an ambush on a car carrying a group of soldiers. The coordinated attacks killed 42 people and injured dozens more. Five senior commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Iran's elite military unit, were killed, including Brig. Gen. Nourali Shoushtari, deputy commander of the IRGC's ground forces.
Jundallah was formed in 2003 and is believed to have about 1000 members. Its base of operations is in Pakistan's Baluchestan province. Jundallah is led by Albolmalek Rigi, a Sunni fundamentalist. Jundallah is a Sunni Salafi group, the most extreme sect of Islam, of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda variety, and has links to both groups. Jundallah has been involved in drug trafficking as well.
Drug trafficking from Afghanistan and Pakistan through Iran to Europe has been a major problem for Iran for the past 20 years. During this period, at least 3000 Iranian policemen have been killed by drug traffickers in that region alone. This has been acknowledged by the United Nations, which has commended Iran's efforts in stemming the flow of narcotics.
Jundallah has carried out several other terrorist operations in Iran that have killed many policemen and civilians.
Jundallah's first major terrorist attack inside Iran was in the fall of 2005, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was visiting Baluchestan. His motorcade was attacked; at least one person was killed, and many more were injured. Then in March 2006, Jundallah terrorists blocked a road near Tasooki in Baluchestan and murdered 22 people.
Jundallah has also taken responsibility for the bombing of a bus carrying IRGC soldiers in February 2007. At least 11 soldiers were killed in that attack.
Sixteen policemen were abducted in June 2008 and taken to Pakistan, where they were murdered (some beheaded). Earlier, in August 2007, 21 Iranian truck drivers were abducted and taken to Pakistan, but freed later by Pakistani military. There were two attacks in Saravan. One, a suicide attack, occurred on December 29, 2008, which killed 4 people. The second one, on January 29, 2008, was an ambush on a group of policemen, resulting in 12 deaths.
To justify its acts of terrorism, Jundallah has renamed itself the People's Resistance Movement of Iran. Rigi claims to be fighting to improve the lives of Iranian Baluchis (who number about only 1 million). The claim rings hollow.
There is a movement in the Pakistani Baluchestan province to fight against the discrimination of Baluchi people by the central government. However, that movement has no connection with Jundallah. It is also true that the Baluchi minority in Iran has been discriminated against. But this is an old problem, spanning decades. In fact, Iran's central government has been trying to improve the economy in Baluchestan.
All of Jundallh's attacks have been well-planned and well-coordinated, which raises the question: Who supports and fiances Jundallah?
Over the years, Iran has blamed the United States for supporting the terrorist group. It has accused the United States and Britain of trying to create ethnic tension and instability in Iran. In the aftermath of the most recent attacks, Iran blamed the U.S. again for having a hand in the attacks. Ali Larijani, the Speaker of Iran's parliament, said "If they [the U.S.] want relations with Iran, they must be frank [admit their responsibility]. We consider the recent terrorist act the result of a U.S. measure."
Is there any truth to Iran's allegations against the U.S. and Britain? The mainstream media here has been dismissive of Iran's charges. One unfortunate result of Iran's rigged June 12 presidential election is the loss of legitimacy. Even when there is truth to what the Iranian government says, the world is inclined to dismiss it, simply because Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government has proven to be highly untrustworthy.
But there is evidence to suggest under the recent Bush administration, the U.S. was deeply involved in funding Jundallah terrorists. It is unclear what the policy of the Obama administration is regarding Jundallah. Both Britain and the U.S. State Department flatly rejected Iran's accusations and condemned the terrorist attacks. But there is more than meets the eyes.
The Bush Administration and Terrorist Groups
In February 2007, Dick Cheney traveled to Pakistan and met with then Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf. Pakistani government sources said at the time that the secret campaign against Iran by Jundullah was on the agenda when the two met. In an interview later that month, Cheney referred to the Jundallah terrorists as "guerrillas" to give them legitimacy.
But despite Cheney's efforts to present them as legitimate fighters, Jundallah is a sectarian terrorist organization. It is made of Sunni extremists who hate the Shiites and its goal is to foment a conflict between the two sects of Islam. Because of its Sunni Salafi roots, it is likely that Jundallah is also supported by Saudi Arabia. I will return to this point shortly.
On Feb. 25, 2007, the London Telegraph reported that "America is secretly funding militant ethnic separatist groups in Iran in an attempt to pile pressure on the Islamic regime to give up its nuclear program. Such incidents have been carried out by the Kurds in the west, the Azeris in the northwest, the Ahwazi Arabs in the south-west, and the Baluchis in the southeast. Funding for their separatist causes comes directly from the CIA's classified budget but is now 'no great secret', according to one former high-ranking CIA official in Washington."
According to the Telegraph, Fred Burton, a former U.S. State Department counter-terrorism agent, supported the assertion by saying, "The latest attacks inside Iran fall in line with US efforts to supply and train Iran's ethnic minorities to destabilize the Iranian regime."
In April 2007, ABC News reported that, according to Pakistani and U.S. intelligence officials, the Jundallah group, which is "responsible for a series of deadly guerrilla raids inside Iran has been secretly encouraged and advised by American officials since 2005."
According to the report, "U.S. relationship with Jundullah is arranged so that the U.S. provides no funding to the group, which would require an official presidential order or "finding" as well as congressional oversight. The money for Jundullah was funneled to its leader, Abdelmalek Rigi, through Iranian exiles who have connections with European and Gulf states." The Iranian exiles are the Mujahedin-e Khalgh (MKO).
In an interview with the National Public Radio on June 30, 2008, distinguished American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh explained how the Bush Administration's policy of "my enemy's enemy is my friend" led the U.S. to support the Jundallah and MKO (the MKO is listed as a terrorist organization by the State Department).
A week later, in his July 8, 2008, article in The New Yorker, Hersh quoted Robert Baer, a former CIA clandestine officer who worked for nearly two decades in South Asia and the Middle East. "The Baluchis are Sunni fundamentalists who hate the regime in Tehran, but you can also describe them as Al Qaeda. These are guys who cut off the heads of nonbelievers -- in this case, it's Shiite Iranians. The irony is that we're once again working with Sunni fundamentalists, just as we did in Afghanistan in the nineteen-eighties," Baer was quoted as saying.
Baer was referring to the CIA providing arms, and Saudi Arabia supplying funds to the Afghan Mujahedin in the 1980s, who were fighting the occupying forces of the Soviet Union. After Soviet forces pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989, the Afghan Mujahedin branched out into Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
In a symposium on U.S.-Iran relations that the author co-organized in October 2008 at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, Baer repeated his assertions about Jundallah.
Former Pakistani Army Chief, retired General Mirza Aslam Baig, also said that "the U.S. supports the Jundullah terrorist group and uses it to destabilize Iran. Baig was deeply involved when the Pakistani military's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) created the Taliban."
In his July 2008 article Hersh also said that the MKO received arms and intelligence, directly or indirectly, from the U.S., and that the Kurdish party, PJAK (Party for Free Life of Kurdistan), "which has also been reported to be covertly supported by the United States," has been operating against Iran from bases in northern Iraq for at least three years. PJAK, the Iranian branch of the Kurdish PKK group active in Turkey, has used Iraq's side of Kurdistan as its base to carry out many raids into Iran which have killed many civilians, as well as soldiers and policemen.
Britain and Terrorist Groups
There is still more. In the fall of 2005, there was a series of bombings in Iran's oil-rich province of Khuzestan, which borders southern Iraq, which was occupied by British forces. The bombings killed many innocent people. The Iranian government accused Britain and the U.S. of being behind the terrorist attacks. In his article, Hersh also mentions possible U.S. support for the so-called Khazestan separatists (who exist only in the imagination of some U.S. policy makers).
"Arabization" of Khuzestan and separating it from Iran has always been a goal of Britain, going back to the 1940s. British Arabists have always supported Arab "nationalist" activities against Iran, and in particular in Khuzestan.
For example, in September 1980 when Iraq invaded Iran, Saddam Hussein's declared goal was to annex Khuzestan. The BBC news network, as well as Western mainstream media, provided full overage of the Iraqi invasion in the first week. For several days, the United States and Britain prevented the UN Security Council from convening an emergency session to look into the possibility of calling for a ceasefire.
Their goal was twofold: (a) to show that Iran's resistance would collapse quickly. In fact, the U.S. was hoping that the invasion and rapid advances of the Iraqi army into Khuzestan would provoke a coup in Tehran by the remnants of the Shah's army; and (b) to show that the Arabs of Khuzestan fully support the invasion and can act as a fifth column.
Neither scenario materialized. In fact, not only did the vast majority of the Iranian Arabs not support Saddam, but were at the forefront of resistance to the Iraqi invaders. By spring of 1982, Iraq had been driven from almost all of Khuzestan.
Clearly, the Bush administration and Britain tried very hard, through covert programs, to destabilize Iran by inciting its ethnic and religious minorities.
The policy of the Obama administration toward the program is not clear. But President Obama has always stated that when it comes to Iran, "All options are on the table." So, why should anyone believe that this particular option has been taken off the table?
Saudi Arabia-Jundallah Link
There may still be another angle to the Jundallah terrorist attacks. Since Jundallah is a Sunni Salafi group, it means that it may have some links with Saudi Arabia, the center of Salafism. At the same time, relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have been very frosty.
Iran is particularly angry that it has not received a definitive response from Saudi Arabia about the fate of the Iranian nuclear physicist Shahram Amiri, who disappeared there in May. The Saudis may have helped Amiri defect. If that is true, the revelations about the Qom uranium enrichment facility may be linked with Amiri's defection.
Saudi Arabia is worried about the possibility of improved relations between Iran and the U.S., as well as Iran's nuclear program.
The Geopolitics of Energy
Another important but hidden aspect of the strife stems from the transportation of natural gas from Central Asia, a land-locked region, to the international markets. Iran possesses 15.8% of the world's natural gas reserves, second only to Russia.
The most economical route for transporting natural gas from Central Asia, particularly from Turkmenistan to the international markets, is through a pipeline that runs through Iran to the port of Chah Bahar. However, because the U.S. desires to limit Iran's financial resources and integration within the region, it has, since the 1990s, supported the construction of an alternative pipeline from Central Asia through Afghanistan to Pakistan and the Indian Ocean.
The pipeline does not make much sense, due to the political instability of Afghanistan and its mountainous terrain. But this is not the first time that the U.S. has supported an uneconomical pipeline purely due to its animosity toward Tehran. The Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which transports the Republic of Azerbaijan's oil from its capital Baku to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, is another example.
All Azerbaijan had to do was construct a short pipeline on its border with Iran to connect it to Iran's pipeline network, which runs from the south to the north. But the Clinton administration prevented that from happening.
Here is an interesting twist. Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan native and the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations during the Bush administration, was a consultant to the Unocal Oil Company in the 1990s. With Khalilzad's help, Unocal lobbied the Clinton administration very strongly to give it permission to construct the pipeline. The Clinton administration supported the project. But just when the agreement was going to be signed, the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 1996.
The Clinton administration was still interested in reaching an agreement with the Taliban about the pipeline. But when the horrible treatment of Afghan women by the Taliban became publicized around the world, the Clinton administration and its Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, were too embarrassed to proceed with the project.
On the other hand, Iran and Pakistan have signed an agreement to construct a pipeline from southern Iran to Pakistan for transporting Iran's natural gas to Pakistan. Initially, the pipeline was supposed to continue to India, but under pressure by the Bush administration, India withdrew from the project. Pakistan, however, resisted U.S. pressure and signed the agreement with Iran.
If constructed, the Iran-Pakistan pipeline, which has been dubbed "the peace pipeline," will be in direct competition with the pipeline through Afghanistan, if and when that pipeline is constructed. The pipeline will run from southern Iran through Baluchestan to the border with Pakistan.
Instability in Iran's Baluchistan province, perpetrated by Jundallah, will scare away potential investors in the Iran-Pakistan pipeline, and may prevent its construction altogether. In my view, these facts, hidden from the public, play an important role in Jundallah's attack on Iran. Neither Saudi Arabia nor the U.S. wants the pipeline to be constructed.
Although I believe that Ahmadinejad's government has no legitimacy in Iran, the fact remains that the U.S. and its allies have been trying for years to incite Iran's ethnic and religious minorities to destabilize the country. To do so, the U.S., Britain, and Saudi Arabia appear to have turned to terrorist groups such as the Jundallah and PJAK. This is, of course, in total contradiction to the so-called "war on terror" that the U.S. is supposedly waging.
Photo Credit: Scott Eells, Redux Pictures.
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