Iran’s grasp is loosening on its eastern borders

On April 4, Iranian media reported a series of attacks by the Baluch separatist group Jaish al-Adl in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchistan Province. The militants claimed they targeted six regime outposts in the port city of Chabahar and the border town Rask, which are more than 100 miles apart.

Gunmen targeted four government buildings in Chabahar, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Force’s (IRGC) Chabahar Headquarters, the Maritime Division of the local Border Guard Command, the local law enforcement’s Criminal Investigation Department, and a local police station. Rask, situated on Iran’s border with Pakistan, saw similar-style offenses on the IRGC regional base and the local IRGC outpost. According to state media, 18 militants and 11 regime security personnel, including 7 IRGC members, were killed in the clashes.

Jaish al-Adl, preceded by Jundallah, is a Sunni Blouch separatist group designated by both the United States and Iran as a terrorist entity. Despite the group characterizing itself as the defender of Baluch rights, the Islamic Republic labels them as “Zionist conspirators.” Throughout the last decade, Jaish al-Adl has carried out more than 15 attacks in Iran’s Baluchistan Province and killed at least 60 Iranian law enforcement and IRGC personnel.

In the most recent clashes, Iran alleged that the group abducted civilian hostages. Jaish al-Adl denied the accusations and added that they called for a temporary ceasefire to allow civilians to flee. Iranian state media did not report any civilian casualties.

Iran and Pakistan Fail to Coordinate, Despite Sharing the Threat

Baluch separatism implicates both Iranian and Pakistani sovereignty, yet the two countries have shown limited willingness to cooperatively address this shared concern. Following the Dec. 2023 Jaish al-Adl attack on Rask, Iran carried out a series of missile and drone strikes in Pakistani Baluchistan, claiming to have targeted militants hiding in Pakistan. This move inevitably angered Pakistan, which prompted the country to strike Iranian villages by its borders. Diplomatic relations deteriorated as a result, with Pakistan recalling its ambassador and Iran threatening Pakistan with military escalation. The two countries eventually healed their broken ties, and the Pakistani Ambassador to Iran was quick to condemn the most recent Jaish al-Adl attacks.

Iran’s “non-Iranians”

Iran’s Baluchistan Province has faced systemic neglect and is considered Iran’s most impoverished province, making it a tinderbox for anti-regime protests. To avoid taking responsibility for this population, the Islamic Republic often describes its Baluch community as “foreign nationals” and “non-Iranians.” For instance, in the aftermath of the Pakistani bombing of Iranian villages earlier this year that killed four children, the regime sought to downplay the attacks by claiming that the victims were “non-Iranians.”

Similarly, Iranian media again alleged that all the militants in the recent clashes were not Iranian. This “other”-ing rhetoric offers convenient avenues for the regime to both evade responsibility over their treatment of the Baluch people while providing an escape hatch to selectively de-escalate with neighboring countries.

Janatan Sayeh is a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies focused on Iranian domestic affairs and the Islamic Republic’s regional malign influence.

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