Evolving Unrest: Sistan-Balochistan Hotbed For Insurgency – Analysis


The Sistan-Balochistan region has long been plagued by insurgency and militancy. The recent attack on Iranian security forces carried out by the militant group Jaish al-Adl serves as a stark reminder of the persistent violence and instability in the area. The Balochistan insurgency, spanning the Pakistani province of Balochistan, the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchistan, and the Balochistan region of Afghanistan, is a multifaceted conflict driven by a range of factors. These include aspirations for separatism, religious motivations, and external interference. 

Moreover, the insurgency in Balochistan is part of the wider Balochistan conflict, the Iran-Saudi Arabia proxy conflict, and the Iran-Israel proxy conflict. The motivations of the insurgent groups are not entirely clear, as they may differ from separatism to religious motivations. The leaders of the groups have maintained different positions, from Baloch nationalism to Salafi jihadism.

However, the belligerents in the conflict include the Islamic Republic of Iran Army and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, responsible for both military and security actions, the Ministry of Intelligence, which does intelligence operations, and the Border Guard Command, which engages in border conflicts with insurgent groups. On the other side, the Baloch rebels include groups such as Jundallah, Jaish ul-Adl, and Ansar Al-Furqan, which have carried out armed assaults against Iranian armed forces as well as civilians.

Furthermore, the recent attack on Iranian security forces by Jaish al-Adl is part of a larger pattern of violence and unrest in the region. The group has claimed responsibility for dozens of operations since 2013, and is led by Salahuddin Farooqui, who has opposed Iranian support for Syria in the Syrian Civil War.

Pakistan, which shares a border with Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan province, has also been accused of providing a safe haven for these militant groups. Iran has historically had a strategic alliance with Pakistan to fight these groups, and in February 2014, the two states signed a pact sharing responsibility for combating militants operating across the border.

Conversely, the intents of militant groups vary, but they generally include the establishment of a separate Baloch state, the implementation of Sharia law, and the overthrow of the central governments in Iran and Pakistan. The violence and instability in the region have been fueled by a variety of factors, including the perceived marginalization and oppression of the Baloch people, the presence of transnational militant groups, and the porous border between Iran and Pakistan, which has allowed these groups to establish safe havens and launch attacks against both countries.

The perceived marginalization and oppression of the Baloch people serve as a significant catalyst for the militant groups’ attacks on Pakistan and Iran. Being a minority in both nations, the Baloch have consistently voiced their grievances regarding discrimination and neglect by the central governments. Consequently, this has fostered a sense of alienation and disenfranchisement, which militant groups have effectively capitalized on.

In addition to the aforementioned reasons, the violence is further fueled by the existence of transnational militant organizations like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) that have managed to establish a foothold in the region. These groups exploit the porous border between Iran and Pakistan, utilizing it to create safe havens and carry out attacks on both countries.

Complex Web of Conflict

The Iran-Pakistan region known as Sistan and Baluchistan is a hotbed for insurgency due to various internal and external factors. The insurgency in this region is fueled by the presence of groups fighting for the rights of the ethnic Baluch population. In Iran, the insurgency has Sunni Islamist roots led by groups like Jaish al-Adl, while in Pakistan, it has more secular nationalist roots. The conflict is aggravated by the neglect of the Baluch people by both Tehran and Islamabad, economic disparities, and political marginalization. 

External factors contributing to the conflict include the historical tensions between Iran and Pakistan, suspicions of cross-border support for insurgent groups, and the involvement of regional powers like India and China in the region. Additionally, the complex geopolitical landscape, including Iran’s strained relations with the U.S. and Israel, Pakistan’s ties with the Taliban and India, and the involvement of militant groups like Jundallah and Jaish ul-Adl, further escalate the conflict in the Sistan and Baluchistan region. 

Evolving nature of Insurgency 

The Iran-Pakistan Baluchistan region has been evolving and expanding as a hotbed for insurgency due to several factors. Historically, Iran and Pakistan have shared warm relations, but the current conflict is influenced by internal struggles and external tensions. The porous border between the two countries has become a conduit for unrest, with accusations of harboring militant groups and supporting separatists.

Moreover, Iran and Pakistan have both experienced low-level insurgencies along their border, with insurgent groups seeking an independent Baluchistan for ethnic Baluch areas in Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. These groups operate freely in the largely lawless border region, causing frustration for both countries.

On the other hand, Iran has targeted Jaish al-Adl, a Sunni separatist group believed to operate out of Pakistan, launching attacks on Iranian security forces. In response, Pakistan has targeted the Baluchistan Liberation Army and the Baluchistan Liberation Front, which are suspected of hiding out in Iran. This tit-for-tat dynamic has led to a recent escalation in tensions, with both countries accusing each other of supporting militant groups.

Furthermore, internal dynamics also play a role in the escalation of conflict. Iran has faced growing pressure for action after a deadly Islamic State group attack, Israel’s war on Iran’s ally Hamas, and wider unrest against its theocracy. Pakistan, on the other hand, has been under immense pressure to respond to insurgent attacks, aiming to maintain the perception of a strong army.

Conversely, the geopolitical landscape further muddles the equation, with Iran’s ties to Russia and China counterbalancing Pakistan’s close alliance with the United States and Saudi Arabia. This complex chessboard creates uncertainty about the future, with the potential for further skirmishes and escalations casting a dark shadow over the region.

In conclusion, the Iran-Pakistan Baluchistan region has evolved and expanded as a hotbed for insurgency due to a combination of internal struggles, external tensions, and the involvement of regional and global powers. Delicate diplomacy and trust-building measures are necessary to address the root causes of conflict and prevent further escalation.

Zubair Mumtaz

Zubair Mumtaz is a Conflict Analyst and M.Phil. Scholar at National Defence University in Peace & Conflict Studies, specializing in South Asian Conflicts and Conflict Resolution Strategies. He is currently working for Radiant Journal Foundation as a Research Associate, and explores the complexities of regional/Global dynamics, offering insightful perspectives on security issues and conflict.

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