QUETTA -- Pakistanis are concerned about increasing Iranian influence and aggression in the region following a diplomatic row in May over the threat of cross-border military strikes.
Tehran has long blamed Pakistan for allowing "anti-state" elements to plot attacks against the Iranian regime from its soil, a claim Islamabad rejects.
The issue came to a head again May 8 when Maj. Gen. Mohammad Baqeri, head of Iran's armed forces, said Pakistan must control its side of the border and take action against alleged terrorist bases.
"If the terrorist attacks continue, we will hit their safe havens and cells, wherever they are," Baqeri said, according to Iranian state media.
The warning came days after an alleged cross-border militant raid resulted in the deaths of at least 10 Iranian security personnel.
"The Iranian side was urged to avoid issuance of such statements that could vitiate the environment of fraternal relations," Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Iran 'creates hurdles' to peace
"The recent ultimatum for Pakistan from the head of the Iranian armed forces is a massive violation and an attempt to promote aggression," Muhammad Hakeem Baloch, a political analyst in Quetta, told Pakistan Forward.
"It is the responsibility of the state to respond to Iran in a more effective way over its influence on our soil," he said, citing accusations that Iran lacks security and supports terrorist groups.
"Iran's funding of militants in Pakistan is creating hurdles in our on-going peace process," he said. "The Iranian government must secure its own side of the border rather than creating obstacles to brotherly relations."
"Countering the militant groups operating inside Iran is not the responsibility of Pakistan," Baloch said. "Iran must take appropriate steps for handling its own home-grown terrorism."
"Iran is causing havoc in the Middle East, and now its attempt to gain influence in Pakistan and Afghanistan shows that it is trying to dominate the region too," he said.
Playing a double game
"It is time to realise that Iran is applying a double game [of alternating subversion and superficial friendliness] and threatening peace in the region," said Muhammad Rashid, a security analyst in Islamabad. "We cannot afford Iranian influence on our soil."
"The Iranian regime has sought to export its ideology to neighbouring countries, and Pakistan is a frontline state for that agenda," he told Pakistan Forward, adding that this action is a violation of international sovereignty agreements.
"Iran is fueling sectarian violence in Pakistan, and its proxy involvement is damaging our internal security," he said, adding that Pakistan must take Iran's aggression very seriously and "react with a prompt retort".
"Our soil must not be a battlefield for any foreign agenda," he said.
Iranian aggression against Pakistan is intolerable and requires a strong response from the Foreign Ministry, said Maj. (ret.) Muhammad Omar, an Islamabad-based senior defence analyst.
"Pakistan is a peace-loving country and is playing an important role in the ongoing war against terror," he told Pakistan Forward.
"The rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia is affecting the internal security of Pakistan," he said. "Therefore, we must adopt a policy of being free of such proxy engagements."
"Iran is trying to assert that it is in a defensive position because it faces massive violence in its bordering areas," Burhan Abid, a senior Ministry of Defence official, told Pakistan Forward.
"Therefore, in my opinion, the Iranian government must ensure a proper solution for its own conflicts rather than blaming others for its failure," he said.
"The real test of our country's leadership is to adopt a strategy that addresses the interests of Pakistan and not of others," he said. "We cannot afford any further conflict and foreign involvement in our region."
Abid also pointed to the power struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia and sectarianism as factors influencing the diplomatic climate. "Both countries are keenly trying to gain the strategic support of Pakistan," he said.
"Iran's objective, besides its radical zeal, is to mobilise the Shia community for its own gains because it declared itself a defender of Shia causes," he said, adding that Iran is operating cultural centres in several parts of Pakistan "that are playing a key role in propagating the Iranian agenda in Pakistan".
"We must keep a vigilant eye on these centres," he said.
Pakistan is committed to maintaining security in its jurisdiction along the Pakistani-Iranian border, Abid said, but Iran must take responsibility for its side of the border.
"Iran's involvement in Pakistan and its irresponsible statements against our integrity are creating mayhem in our relations," he said.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif May 3 visited Islamabad and raised the issue of border security with Pakistani leaders, including Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif.
The two sides agreed to enhance border security co-ordination, including an agreement "in principle" to revive a hotline between Pakistani and Iranian border troops, according to an official statement released after the meetings.