Iran's Enemy Is Not America's Friend

Why supporting the terrorists who are trying to take down the Revolutionary Guard will only come back to haunt us.

On Oct. 18, a suicide bomber in southeastern Iran killed at least 42 people and wounded scores of others in a lethal attack on senior commanders of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The Shiite IRGC doesn't make an especially sympathetic victim -- it has quashed dissent in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and is now helping spearhead an autocracy there. The group taking credit for the attack, Jundallah (God's Soldiers), also known as the People's Resistance Movement of Iran, is a Sunni organization. It seeks full rights for Baluch tribesfolk specifically and Sunni Muslims generally either within a majority Shiite Iran or as a separate state. Hence it battles the Shiite clerics, secular autocrats, military, and paramilitary forces who rule Iran with an iron fist, styling itself a coalition of freedom fighters.

But that does not make Iran's Sunni insurgents the good guys, not by a long shot. Their tactics are reminiscent of Hezbollah, Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers, al Qaeda, and the Taliban plus its local allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In fact, they derive inspiration and knowledge from that wider network of terrorist organizations.

Jundallah emerged in 2003, spawned by the Baluchi Autonomist Movement of the 1980s and 1990s. The movement's militants attempted to assassinate President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005 at Zabol along Iran's eastern border with Afghanistan and Pakistan. Three months later, the group killed civilians at nearby Tasuki just before the Iranian New Year. The group took responsibility for fatal car bomb attacks on the IRGC at Zahedan and Saravan in 2007, 2008, and earlier this year. The Jundallah also has attacked Shiite mosques and kidnapped civilians. The Iranian government has retaliated by executing captured militants.

Pishin, the area of the latest attack, like Zabol, Zahedan, Saravan, and other hot spots of Sunni rebellion in Iran, lies along the poorly defined borderland that is a stronghold of armed Baluch tribes -- many with ethnic and ideological links to the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. Those tribes have traditionally been hostile to all three states and desirous of their own territory. Pakistan's military has confronted rebellious Baluch tribesmen since that country's independence in 1947. A deadly mix of narcotics, weapons, petroleum, and luxury goods flows through the region. Income from that illicit trade has funded separatist militants, religious fundamentalists, and international terrorists for the past three decades.

The Iranian government has charged that the United States, Britain, and even Pakistan are linked to Sunni militant activities within its borders as part of ongoing attempts at regime change. Although accepting Pakistan's official condemnation of Jundallah-planned attacks, Iran's leadership claims the group's leaders enjoy safe haven in Pakistan and insists that Pakistan cooperate in arresting and extraditing them to Iran for trial.

The Iranian charges are not made up from whole cloth, but they are probably still not true. There has long been talk of funding coming to the rebels from the Saudis -- with U.S. knowledge -- as part of tensions between Sunni Arabs and Shiite Iranians stretching as far back as the Arab conquest of Iran in the seventh century to more recent competition for dominance in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, and Lebanon. Sources of those claims allegedly include Jundallah's top leadership. Moreover, public and private reports indicate that officials in the George W. Bush administration at the very least strongly considered the idea themselves. Both Iranian and Pakistani officials and citizens think that Saudi funding for Baluch rebels in Iran had tacit U.S. consent at that time. Hard-liners against Iran in Washington still raise the option as a means of destabilizing Iran's antagonistic regime.

Indeed, the Barack Obama administration might be tempted to use direct or indirect funding as a means of surrogate warfare to further pressure Iran's government. Violent anti-Iranian Sunni groups like Jundallah have not been placed on the U.S. State Department's terrorism list. And the Obama administration might feel that it's already being punished for the perception that it's funding the rebels and may as well try to reap some of the rewards.

But this would be shortsighted. The basic problem with any strategy to destabilize Iran via Sunni tribal rebellions is that Baluch nationalism spans three countries -- not just Iran, but also Afghanistan and Pakistan. Supporting a pan-Baluchistan movement would only worsen societal instability and national fragmentation in West Asia and South Asia.

Militant groups, especially ones linked to ethnic and religious notions, have brought little but trouble to the world. It is important to recall the obvious: The United States and its partners once supported the Taliban materially because they were battling the Soviets and Russians. The United States shouldn't repeat the mistake, fooling itself that Sunni Baluch nationalists will be better disposed toward the West just because they are now fighting a common foe in the Iranian government.

Yes, there might be the temptation to exert pressure, via internal strife, on Ahmadinejad's autocratic regime for eliciting nuclear and international compromises. But Iran's Sunni insurgency isn't just bad news for the IRCG -- it's also bad news for the Middle East, Asia, and the United States. Ultimately, therefore, whether or not the Iranian regime's charges of foreign interference are accurate, no country should welcome or aid an insurgency in eastern Iran. NGOs for terrorism really are harder to subdue than nation-states supporting such activities.



How to Help Pakistan Win This Fight

The Pakistani Army is determined to defeat al Qaeda-linked militants in South Waziristan. So why is the United States still withholding the military equipment Pakistan urgently needs?

The battle for Pakistan has finally started in earnest along the northwest frontier. After months of warning of an impending attack, the Pakistani military moved into South Waziristan this weekend to stamp out the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), which is allied with al Qaeda and allows the terrorist group to operate from the region. The Army bulked up the division entrusted with the task, supplementing it with troops and helicopters from North Waziristan, and local regiments from the Frontier Corps. The aim was to encircle and destroy the TTP in the southeastern third of Waziristan, where some 10,000 well-armed and battle-hardened militants are hiding.

But despite the reinforcements, the force trying to root out the entrenched militants is still not fully equipped or ready for mobile warfare. After more than eight years of involvement in the U.S.-led war against militants in Afghanistan, Pakistan still does not have all the weapons or assistance that it needs to do the job right.

The Pakistani forces are facing a more desperate and dangerous TTP. Since the powerful TTP chieftain Baitullah Mehsud was killed by a U.S. drone strike in August, the movement's new leaders have endeavored to establish their own credentials. Their attacks -- such as those on the general headquarters of the Army in Rawalpindi and on police offices in different cities in the Pakistani heartland -- have become more audacious and open.

The TTP-al Qaeda militancy has also become more dangerous due to the active participation of Punjabi terrorist groups. In years past, these Islamist extremists operated under the auspices of Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's powerful military spy agency, fighting against Indians in Kashmir. Now, following Pakistan's attempt at reconciliation with India over Kashmir, they have gone rogue. The Army lacks the capacity and willingness to open a new front in Punjab, where the militants are based in small towns and some cities. But it can do much damage to the Taliban-al Qaeda nexus in South Waziristan.

The Army has attempted to stop the anti-TTP operation from becoming an all-out tribal feud, though. Following the pattern of the offensives into Swat and Malakand earlier this summer, it encouraged neutral Mehsud tribesmen to leave the battle area. Thousands of internal refugees moved south last week, as the Pakistan Air Force pounded targets with F-16s and other aircraft to prepare the ground for the Army assault. Given the complex terrain, it is not clear how successful those bomb runs have been. If the ground offensive slows down over the next few days, it will signal that the militants have dug deep into the mountains and will exact a heavy toll on advancing forces. Some of them, including al Qaeda elements, might even head into Afghanistan to regroup, buying off the area's Wazir and Bhittani tribesmen along the way. If the going is easier, then it is likely that the al Qadea and the TTP leadership has slipped away to seek refuge in northeastern Afghanistan, leaving behind booby traps and mines and a rearguard to fight against the invading Army.

Co-opting some of the Mehsud was a smart move, but it meant the Army lost the element of surprise. It will have to decide this war by sheer force of will and firepower, enduring heavy losses. And even if it wins the ground battle and occupies TTP territory, it might end up being a short-lived win. The Army is not trained or equipped to "hold" the area. There is no civilian force to police the territory, nor is there a judiciary to provide good governance; indeed, over the past eight years, Pakistan's government has failed to provide itself with anything other than military solutions to such problems. Both ousted autocrat Gen. Pervez Musharraf and the current government (which has retained the general's centralized powers) have entirely failed to strengthen their civilian capacity.

The United States too, has failed, most spectacularly in its inability to engage broadly with the Pakistani people, choosing instead to deal with one person or a small group of powerful players at the center. It thus lost its ability to gain public support in Pakistan for the fight against terrorism and militancy. The huge contretemps in Pakistan over the Kerry-Lugar bill has further undermined Washington's efforts to generate good will, and the Amy's public rebuke of the bill has only added to the mistrust between these two wary allies.

The Pakistani Army's wariness should not surprise us. Though American taxpayers have given Pakistan nearly $11 billion to cover the costs of its military operations since 2002, Washington has withheld the latest U.S. equipment from Pakistan. U.S. officials wring their hands when asked about more helicopters and gunships, for instance, explaining that sending the latest and unfamiliar U.S. equipment to Pakistan would entail introducing new maintenance and logistical problems. Thus, the only major sources of helicopters to match Pakistan's inventory of Chinese aircraft are the Eastern European states and Russia. (Fears that Pakistan might divert these weapons system to the Indian border could be met by providing helicopters under renewable leases.)

This severely constrains Pakistan's ability to traverse the mountains in Waziristan, where the average height is 8,500 feet and roads are few and far between. Pakistan's land forces, meanwhile, go into battle with half-flak jackets and the Frontier Corps' Scouts still traipse around in "chappals," open-toed sandals, in the rough and cold terrain of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The Army also lacks the capability of tracking or jamming satellite phones used by the militants.

As the Pakistani military faces such logistical obstacles, militants and their supporters in Punjab will continue to terrorize the public. They will also attempt to unbalance the military and police forces in the hinterland with sporadic attacks. But they face a resolute military that is now finally determined to take the fight to the militants and fight its own fight.

The United States ought to help Pakistan with this endeavor, finding and delivering urgently the equipment that Pakistan needs to fight its own battle for survival, beginning in the mountains of South Waziristan. Time is short. Soon, winter will descend on the border region, and even though South Waziristan doesn't usually get heavy snows except on the peaks, the winter is very cold and will make an extended battle harder to sustain. We should know in the next week how this war for Pakistan in the wilds of South Waziristan will turn out.