The reported killing of one of the five Iranian border guards abducted in the Sistan-Balochestan province of Iran last month has soured the mood in Tehran. Our western neighbor suspects its guards had been taken to the Pakistan border region and that the onus of rescuing them from their captors lies with Islamabad. While Pakistan swiftly condemned the kidnapping incident, and offered to act on any credible intelligence made available to it, its investigations so far have, according to the Foreign Office, “neither corroborated nor established the entry into or presence within Pakistani territory” of the Iranian soldiers.
While the episode indeed deserves unqualified denunciation and every effort must be made to get the young guards freed and the kidnappers hunted down, it will scarcely help matters if Tehran goes overboard in exerting pressure on Islamabad. As if the phone call of Iranian President Hassan Rowhani to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif demanding “serious and swift action” by Pakistan was not enough, other top functionaries have been issuing threats of unilateral action if Islamabad fails to track the whereabouts of the kidnapped men. Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli warned that his country reserves the right to utilise all its ability in its border areas. He did not elaborate. But rapporteur of Iran’s parliament on national security and foreign policy, Syed Hossein Naqavi Hosseini, was not so ambivalent in his threat, as he said on March 27 that Iranian task force units will attack the base of terrorists inside Pakistan “if the Pakistan government is incapable of doing so”.
Such noises from across the western border will be unhelpful in the quest to secure release of the Iranian guards. Pakistan has been extending help to the maximum degree in this regard, including holding a joint border commission meeting in Quetta on February 19-20, to consider the best course of action. But calm and quiet diplomacy is the best way forward, not obduracy, if a breakthrough in the hunt for the kidnappers is to be had. There is an urgent need to de-escalate tensions on both sides. Islamabad and Tehran must do everything possible to placate each other’s grievances and suspicions.