It is too early to say if the hanging of Abdolmalek Rigi by Iran spells the end of its troubles in the Sistan-Balochistan province. But it does offer Pakistan an opportunity to shut the door on at least one extremist outfit for good. Rigi led Jundallah, the group behind a low-level insurgency in the south-eastern Iranian province where the people are mostly of Baloch ethnicity and belong to the minority Sunni Muslim community. Last year, Jundallah — meaning ‘Soldiers of God' — which claims to be fighting Iran for Baloch and Sunni Muslim rights, took responsibility for two major terrorist attacks in the province. One of these, a suicide bombing in October in Pishin near the Iran-Pakistan border, killed several top commanders of the Revolutionary Guards. Four months later, in February 2010, the 26-year-old Rigi was dramatically captured from a plane flying from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan. He was sentenced to death by the Tehran Revolutionary Court, which convicted him of several acts of violence. Iran blames the United States, Israel, and the United Kingdom for funding Jundallah, and Pakistan for collaborating with these countries, at the very least, to the extent of providing safe haven to the militant group. Islamabad has made a determined effort to strengthen ties with Tehran despite opposition from the U.S., but the Jundallah issue has been a thorn in their ties. It added to Iran's ire that the insurgents seemed to operate with great ease along the border with Pakistan — in 2008, the terrorist organisation abducted a group of 16 Iranian policemen from a checkpoint and reportedly transferred them across the border into Pakistan, later executing all of them.
Iran's success in tracking down the leadership of Jundallah owes a lot to cooperation from democratic Pakistan. In 2008, the newly elected Pakistan People's Party government captured and extradited to Iran the Jundallah leader's brother Abdolhamid Rigi, who was executed last month. It may have also facilitated the capture of the other Rigi from a commercial flight earlier this year. If Pakistan intends to go after any remnants of Jundallah operating from its territory is not clear. But with the group said to have built links with the Pakistani Taliban and perhaps even the al-Qaeda, Islamabad may have realised that the outfit was doing it more harm than good. Doubtless, this was encouraged by a mix of smooth diplomacy and warnings — mostly quiet — by Tehran. As India does not enjoy the same leverage with its neighbour, it can only be hoped that Pakistan will, on its own or goaded by others with influence over it, have a similar epiphany about militant outfits such as Laskhar-e-Taiba that carry out terrorist attacks on Indian soil.
Reader's Editor corrects:
Abdolmalek Rigi was 31 years old. The second paragraph of “Behind Rigi's hanging” said he was 26.