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Iran, Pakistan to form border 'reaction force' following militant attacks

We agreed to create a joint rapid reaction force at the borders [Getty]

Date of publication: 22 April, 2019

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Iran and Pakistan decided to set up a joint border force following a spat of deadly attacks by armed groups on their frontier.

Iran and Pakistan anounced on Monday the planned formation of a joint border "reaction force" following a wave of deadly attacks by armed groups on their frontier.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced the move after talks with visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.

"We agreed to create a joint rapid reaction force at the borders for combatting terrorism," Rouhani said in a joint news conference.

It follows months of volatile relations between Iran and Pakistan, marred by attacks on both sides of the border.

The frontier skirts the unstable southeastern Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchistan which has witnessed frequent attacks on Iran's security forces.

Pakistan PM's visit to neighbouring Iran, the first since he took office last year, comes after gunmen who Islamabad claims were based in Iran killed 14 Pakistani security guards last week in Balochistan province, in the southwestern region of Pakistan.

"The security chief will sit down with his counterpart here and discuss (security) cooperation," Khan said, without elaborating further with regard to the joint force.

"We trust that both countries will not have terrorist activities from their soil... We will not allow any damage to your country from our soil," the Pakistani premier said on Sunday.

In recent months, ties between Iran and Pakistan have been tense, with both sides accusing each other of not acting sufficiently to eliminate armed groups purportedly hiding across the border.

Tehran has reinforced security along its border with Pakistan after a suicide bomber killed 27 members of Tehran's Revolutionary Guard in mid-February in southeastern Iran, with Tehran blaming Pakistan-based Jaish al-Adl ("Army of Justice") for the attack.

Following the attack, Rouhani urged Pakistan to act "decisively against anti-Iranian terrorists."

On Saturday, Islamabad said it had evidence the "terrorist outfits" that carried out the attack in Balochistan had "training and logistic camps inside Iranian areas bordering Pakistan".

Islamist as well as ethnic Baloch separatists operate in Balochistan, Pakistan's poorest province.

In an apparent reference to the United States and its policy of isolating the Islamic republic, Rouhani said Tehran was ready to boost trade and business ties with Islamabad, stressing that "no third country" could harm Iran-Pakistan ties.

"Iran is ready to meet Pakistan's oil and gas demands ... (and) we are ready to increase (electricity) exports to Pakistan ten-fold," Rouhani added.

President Rouhani said cooperation between Chabahar port in southeast Iran and Pakistan's Gwadar port can be amplified, and that Tehran could facilitate the construction of a railroad connecting Turkey’s Istanbul to Pakistan's capital Islamabad.

Khan confirmed that his visit to Tehran - the first by a Pakistani premier since Nawaz Sharif in 2016 - aims to "find ways to increase trade and cooperation... in energy and other areas", adding that two-way trade was "very limited".

Pakistan is a close ally of the US as well as Saudi Arabia, both of which have intensified pressure on Iran over its alleged interference in regional affairs.

Washington last year pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal signed by Tehran and world powers and reimposed severe economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia and Shia-dominated Iran have a longstanding rivalry based as much in geostrategic interests as religious differences.

Facing off across the Gulf, the two major oil producers have taken opposing sides for decades in conflicts across the Middle East.

Riyadh broke off diplomatic relations with Tehran in 2016 in protest at the torching of its diplomatic missions by Iranian protesters angry over the execution of Shia Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province.

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