Why Iran targeted Jaish al-Adl, the Sunni militant group in Pakistan's Balochistan province?

The Balochi group has claimed several bombings and kidnapped Iranian police

iran-missiles-portrait Representation. A stage depicting Iran's missiles and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei | PTI

The already-strained relations between Iran and Pakistan worsened on  Friday when Iran's missiles struck "bases for the militant group Jaish al-Adl" in Pakistan’s southwest Balochistan province. The attack, which Pakistan called an "unprovoked violation of its airspace" brings the focus to the militant group Jaish al-Adl, which Iran calls Jaish al-Dhulm. 

Twelve years since the militant group was founded, Jaish al-Adl, or the Army of Justice, has largely been at loggerheads with Iran, fighting its soldiers in border areas.

Baluchistan has faced an insurgency by Baluch nationalists for more than two decades. The nationalists's initial demand was a share of provincial resources, but later it transformed into an insurgency for independence. Both Pakistan and Iran have provinces dominated by Baloch ethnic groups: Balochistan in Pakistan and Sistan and Baluchestan province in Iran. These militant groups are at war with governments on both sides, triggering nationalist movements. 

The militants have claimed bombings and kidnapped Iranian border police in the past, including the suicide car bombing that killed 27 IRGC members in Sistan and Baluchistan in February 2019. Last month, Jaish al-Adl claimed responsibility for an attack in Iran's Rask region, killing at least 11 Iranian police officers. Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi, blamed the Jaish al-Adl for the incident and claimed the Jaish militants had entered Sistan from the Pakistan side near Panjgur.

Tehran considers Jaish ul-Adl a proxy of Saudi Arabia and has demanded action from Islamabad. On the other hand, Pakistani officials allege fugitive insurgents use bases on Iranian soil to plot deadly raids on security forces in natural resources-rich Baluchistan. 

Though Iran has fought in border areas against the militants, the missile-and-drone attack on Pakistan would be unprecedented.

After the Iran missile attack, Jaish al-Adl said the strikes hit the homes of two of its members, killing two children and injuring two women and a teenage girl. "At least six suicide drones and several missiles targeted homes where the families, including children and spouses, of members of the Jaish al-Adl organisation were residing," read the statement. 

The group decried the Islamic Republic regime for targeting children, women, and innocent people, saying that "the Revolutionary Guards and decision-makers should be aware that such heinous attacks... will strengthen the determination of the Jaish al-Adl to overthrow their palace of tyranny."

Interestingly, the attacks happened just after Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian met his Pakistani counterpart Jalil Abbas Jilani on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. Two days ago, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, the special representative of the Iranian president for Afghanistan affairs, had arrived in Islamabad at the head of a political delegation upon an invitation by his Pakistani counterpart Asif Durrani.

Pakistan was vocal about Tehran not warning it about the attack. "It is even more concerning that this illegal act has taken place despite the existence of several channels of communication between Pakistan and Iran. Pakistan's strong protest has already been lodged with the concerned senior official in the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tehran."


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