Westward of Iran, we see Tehran and the P5+1 holding expert-level talks in Vienna this week, the Austrian president accepting an invitation to the country, and continuing all-around diplomatic engagement.
But to the east, towards Balochistan, on the Pakistani border, events are unfolding that are a far cry from the smile-filled diplomacy that has characterized Iranian-Western relations in recent months.
It all began on February 6, when five Iranian guards were kidnapped on the border by an Iranian terrorist group accused of having sanctuaries in Pakistani Balochistan. When the group announced that it had killed one of the guards, Iran retaliated by deploying (IRGC) troops to secure the border, executing 16 “rebels” and warning of a “crushing response” – in Pakistani territory, implicitly – if additional guards are harmed. Pakistan, meanwhile, vehemently denied that the guards were being held on Pakistani soil at all.
The power struggle between Iran and Pakistan over the matter has played out mostly over local media – the semi-governmental Press TV in Iran, and in Pakistan, newspapers such as Dawn, Tribune and The Nation.
In Iran, the debacle was presented as a Pakistani security failure and as a catalyst for an Iranian military strike on terrorism in the area. Press TV boasted that Iran had even suggested the creation of an anti-terrorism front comprised of Iran, Pakistan and others – even as Iran continues to funnel funds to terrorists the world over.
In fact, Iran’s selective definition of “terrorism” could spell trouble for Pakistan: Islamabad recently received a $1.5 billion grant from Saudi Arabia, ostensibly due to “dire need,” but really – according to analysts of The National and Christian Science Monitor – Riyadh wants to arm the Free Syrian Army with Pakistani weapons. Herein lies the paradox: to much of the world, it is the Iranian proxies fighting for Assad in Syria – particularly Hezbollah – who are the terrorists. But to Iran, the terrorist threat to be rid of is the moderate Syrian Opposition Coalition.
How, then, will Pakistan, which depends on Iran for gas, fare with Riyadh encouraging it to enter the Syrian war, and the IRGC poised to strike with any sign of “terrorism” on the eastern border?