Jaish al-Adl and Pak-Iran Exchange of Fire: The Underlying Condition

Date
26-04-2024

The emergence of Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice), a Sunni-Islamic Baloch militant group focussed on the interests of the Baloch population in Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchestan operating out of Pakistan, poses a significant security challenge, particularly in destabilizing Iran-Pakistan relationship. An attempt is being made here to examine the group's activities, which have intensified in recent years and resulted in increased tensions between the two nations. Recent incidents, including cross-border attacks and clashes, highlight the precarious situation exacerbated by Jaish al-Adl's actions.

Claiming to advocate for Baluchi minority rights in Iran, the group primarily targets Iranian security forces, particularly in the Sistan-Baluchestan region. The commentary discusses specific attacks dating back from 2012 to 2024, showcasing Jaish al-Adl's evolving tactics and persistence despite Iranian counterterrorism efforts. Additionally, it explores Pakistan's role in facilitating transnational terrorism by providing safe havens and support to groups like Jaish al-Adl. It concludes by emphasizing the need for comprehensive counterterrorism strategies addressing underlying instability factors and international cooperation to curb state-sponsored terrorism.

Introduction

The emergence and assertive presence of Jaish al-Adl, a militant entity operating out of Pakistan, represents a notable security challenge for the region. This militant organization has progressively intensified its activities, with an agenda of regional destabilization and exacerbation of bilateral tensions between the aforementioned nations. Importantly, the preceding month witnessed provocative actions such as cross-border rocket exchanges. These belligerent maneuvers highlight the volatility of the situation propelled by Jaish al-Adl's operations.

An instance of such volatility unfolded in a recent confrontation between Iranian security forces and Jaish al-Adl militants in south-eastern Sistan-Baluchestan in early April 2024. On 4 April, nocturnal engagements in localities such as Chabahar and Rask resulted in tragic casualties, with 27 casualties including 11 Iranian security personnel and 16 militants. Despite their efforts, the insurgents failed to gain control over pivotal installations such as the Revolutionary Guards headquarters in Chabahar and Rask. Jaish al-Adl ostensibly justifies its actions on the basis of its advocacy of the rights of the Baloch minority and amelioration of their socioeconomic condition in Iran. The Baloch of Iran in Sistan-Baluchestan are a minority both in terms of their ethnic identity and sectarian orientation (Sunni) in a country which is predominantly Shia. Jaish al-Adl focusses its attacks only on Iranian security guards and has not yet been found to act against Pakistani security forces, despite the speculations that they might be drawing their sustenance in Pakistani Balochistan from their ethnic Baloch cousins, who are fighting a separate war of liberation within Pakistan, ever since Pakistan was formed in 1947. It is interesting to note that many Pakistani Baloch rebels have sought shelter in Sistan-Baluchestan, Iran, under attack from Pakistan security forces. There is also an allegation that they use Iranian territory to reequip and launch attacks on Pakistan. 

In December 2023Jaish al-Adl orchestrated a bold incursion into Iran targeting a police station in Rask, resulting in the loss of 11 security personnel. On 3 January 2024, ISIS struck with two suicide attackers in Kerman killing about 80 people attending a commemorative ceremony marking the fourth anniversary of the killing of Qasem Soleimani at his grave. In response, on 15-16 January 2024, Iran launched retaliatory missile attacks on Iraq, Syria and Pakistan. The attack on Pakistan on 16 January was because of the attack carried out by Jaish al-Adl in December 2023 and it targeted two ‚Äúkey strongholds of the Jaysh al-Dhulm (Jaish al-Adl)¬†terrorist group in Pakistan‚ÄĚ in Panjgur, Balochistan. ¬†On 17 January 2024, Pakistan condemned the attacks¬†and called it ‚Äúviolation of Pakistan‚Äôs sovereignty‚ÄĚ which was ‚Äúcompletely unacceptable‚ÄĚ. However, while such official condemnation was on expected lines, the decision to retaliate was hastened by reactions inside Pakistan. On 18 January, Pakistan ‚Äúundertook a series of highly coordinated and specifically targeted precision military strikes¬†against terrorist hideouts in Siestan-o-Baluchistan province of Iran‚ÄĚ killing a ‚Äúnumber of terrorists‚ÄĚ in an ‚ÄúIntelligence-based operation ‚Äď codenamed ‚ÄėMarg Bar Sarmachar'‚ÄĚ. . While it may have appeared a tit-for-tat action by Pakistan, the statement issued from Pakistan that they were targeting Baloch rebels operating in ungoverned spaces in Iran sought to lower the tension between the two countries by implying indirectly that the Iranian security agencies might not have had anything to do with these militants. There was no statement saying either that Iran should have acted against these forces or it had failed to control them. Keeping Iranian public sentiments in mind, Pakistani statement said: ‚ÄúIran is a brotherly country and the people of Pakistan have great respect and affection for the Iranian people‚ÄĚ.

Nevertheless, the convergence of insurgent militancy, ethno-sectarian schisms, and transnational security exigencies has engendered an environment of volatility wherein Jaish al-Adl operates with relative impunity. These actions, beyond exacerbating bilateral tensions, pose a palpable threat to the stability of the broader region.

The series of attacks orchestrated by the Jaish al-Adl terrorist organization within Iran constitutes a significant manifestation of transnational terrorism, particularly concentrated along Iran's border regions. This militant outfit grew out of the erstwhile Jundullah in 2012, whose leader Abdul Malik Regi was apprehended by Iran from a flight on its way from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan in February 2010 and was executed in June 2010. Jaish al-Adl announced its arrival with a fatal assault on 10 members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in August 2012, and has embarked on a protracted campaign of violence that has had profound repercussions on Iran's security landscape ever since. The attack in Saravan in October 2013 resulting in the tragic killing of 14 Iranian border guards is particularly noteworthy.  Iran had executed 16 Baloch prisoners following this attack

The subsequent attacks carried out by the group have showcased the group's multifaceted approach to asymmetrical warfare, incorporating tactics ranging from targeted assassinations to large-scale assaults on security infrastructure. The utilization of suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and ambushes against military and law enforcement personnel underscores the group's operational flexibility and capacity for strategic adaptation. Furthermore, the perpetration of violence extends beyond mere physical casualties, exerting a deleterious impact on societal stability and the psychological well-being of affected communities. Despite concerted counterterrorism efforts by Iranian security forces, the persistence and resilience exhibited by Jaish al-Adl underscore the formidable challenge posed by extremist outfits operating out of Pakistan in Iran.

Iran's strategic geographic position, serving as a conduit for narcotics transit emanating from Afghanistan, introduces an additional layer of complexity. The proliferation of illicit narcotics engenders a plethora of criminal activities while simultaneously providing militant entities like Jaish al-Adl with the revenue it requires to carry out its activities in an unimpeded manner.

The data compiled below indicates that the attacks have been carried out continuously in Iran. Please refer to the table below:

Date

Location

Attack Details

Casualties

25 Aug 2012

Unknown

10 members of the IRGC were killed

10 IRGC members killed

25 Oct 2013

Saravan

14 Iranian border guards killed; claimed retaliation for 16 Iranian Baloch prisoners' execution

14 border guards killed

6 Nov 2013

Zabol

Attack on Musa Nuri's vehicle; Zabol city prosecutor and his driver killed

2 killed

15 Nov 2013

Unknown

Militants attack border guard patrol, killing 14 guards and wounding 6

14 guards killed, 6 wounded

2 Dec 2013

Saravan

Outpost attack; 1 guard killed, 4 wounded

1 guard killed, 4 wounded

16 Dec 2013

Saravan

Roadside mine attack; 3 soldiers killed

3 soldiers killed

2 Feb 2014

Sistan and Baluchistan

Abduction of 5 Iranian border guards, 1 killed

1 guard killed

9 Oct 2014

Unknown

3 Iranian security forces killed

3 security forces killed

6 Apr 2015

Unknown

Cross-border attack; 8 Iranian border guards killed

8 border guards killed

10 Apr 2015

Unknown

IRGC patrol attacked; 2 officers killed

2 officers killed

4 Nov 2015

Qasre Qand area

Explosive device detonated near police vehicle; 4 officers injured

4 officers injured

6 Jan 2017

Jakigour

IRGC patrol attacked; 1 soldier killed, 3 wounded

1 soldier killed, 3 wounded

26 Apr 2017

Pakistan‚ÄďIran border

Ambush on Iranian border guards; 9 killed, 2 injured

9 border guards killed, 2 injured

11 Mar 2018

Unknown

Attack on IRGC post; 4 attackers killed, 2 soldiers wounded

4 attackers killed, 2 soldiers wounded

Apr 2018

Mirjaveh

Explosive device near police post; 3 officers, 3 terrorists killed

3 officers, 3 terrorists killed

26 Jun 2018

Mirjaveh

Attack on IRGC post; 3 terrorists, 4 soldiers killed

3 terrorists, 4 soldiers killed

16 Oct 2018

Mirjaveh

Poisoning and kidnapping of 12 security personnel; 5 hostages freed on 15 Nov 2018, 4 more freed on 22 Mar 2019

12 security personnel kidnapped

Dec 2018

Chabahar

Suicide bombing; 2 police officers killed, 42 wounded

2 officers killed, 42 wounded

29 Jan 2019

Zahedan

Double bombing; 3 police officers wounded

3 officers wounded

2 Feb 2019

South eastern Iran

Attack on Basij paramilitary base; 1 soldier killed, 5 wounded

1 soldier killed, 5 wounded

13 Feb 2019

Unknown

Suicide bombing targeting IRGC personnel bus; 27 killed

27 killed

30 Jun 2019

Zahedan

Explosive device against IRGC convoy; 1 soldier injured

1 soldier injured

8 Jul 2023

Zahedan

Attack on police station; 2 police officers killed, 4 perpetrators killed

2 officers killed, 4 perpetrators killed

15 Dec 2023

Rask

Attack on police station; 11 police officers killed

11 officers killed

17 Jan 2024

Unknown

Assassination of 3 IRGC officials

3 IRGC officials assassinated

4 Apr 2024

Sistan and Balochistan

Attack on military headquarters; 10 security forces killed, 18 militants killed

10 security forces killed, 18 militants killed

5 Apr 2024

Sistan-Balochistan

Attack on a police station; 11 security personnel killed

11 security personnel killed

Most of these attacks conducted by Jaish al-Adl from inside Pakistan, which link Pakistan to these terrorist acts. Pakistan has alleged that Baloch militants active within its territory are using ungoverned spaces inside Iran in its Seistan-Baluchestan province. However, the data suggest that there is a definite Pakistani linkage in all the attacks on Iranian security forces in the Pakistan-Iran border region since 2012. In recent years, these attacks have been more frequent. In fact, even after the missile exchanges between Iran and Pakistan in January 2024, on 4 April, the same militant outfit carried out yet another attack killing 11 Iranian security guards in Rask, the very same place which had witnessed similar attack in December, as described above. It is useful to ask whether Pakistan ignores such activities along its border with Iran or has a tacit hand behind Jaish al-Adl’s functioning inside its territory. Does it also signal that the writ of the Pakistani state does not run in the areas (in Balochistan) where these groups operate?

It is well-known that the interconnection between state entities and non-state militant organizations perpetuates a cycle of violence, undermining the sovereignty and security of neighboring nations, escalating tensions, and impeding endeavors toward sustainable peace and development in the region. Pakistan is infamous for using terrorism as an instrument of its foreign and security policies vis-à-vis its neighbours, particularly India and Afghanistan. The case of Jaish al-Adl points to yet another possible Pakistani link in the cross-border terror activity going on in Iran.
At another level, it could also point to an unannounced Pakistan-Iran collaboration to tame the Baloch insurgents in their provinces in the bordering region. It can be safely concluded here that the militant ethnic assertion in the Baloch majority region straddling Iran and Pakistan is a function of the apathy shown by the states towards the people inhabiting the area, which has pushed them towards violence. Rather than addressing the underlying causes of ethnic unrest, the two states have episodically exchanged missiles and diplomatic barbs against each other, which is certain to keep the Pak-Iran border region disturbed in future.

Dr. Syed Eesar Mehdi is a Research Fellow at International Centre for Peace Studies, New Delhi, India.