- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 22, 2005

KARACHI, Pakistan — Pakistan has blamed Iran for fueling a growing insurgency in Baluchistan, the strategically sensitive province where militant tribesmen have launched a series of terrorist attacks in recent weeks.

Senior government officials say Iran is encouraging “intruders” from within its own Baluch community to cross the 550-mile border with the Pakistani province and give support to the rebels.

“All this violence is a part of a greater conspiracy,” a senior Pakistani government official said. “These militants would not be challenging the government so openly without the backup of a foreign hand.”

Pakistan’s support would be essential for any U.S.-led action against Iran, whose fundamentalist Muslim regime was last week put firmly in the sights of the second Bush administration by Vice President Dick Cheney. “You look around the world at potential trouble spots — Iran is right at the top of the list,” Mr. Cheney said.

Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency set up a unit in the provincial capital, Quetta, last year to monitor suspected Iranian activity in Baluchistan. Officials say that in addition to directly supporting the insurgency, Tehran’s state-controlled radio has launched a propaganda campaign against Islamabad.

“Radio Tehran broadcasts between 90 and 100 minutes of programs every day which carry propaganda against the Pakistan government,” said a former interior minister. He added that Iran was suspected of providing financial, logistical and moral backing for the insurgency.

Iran is said to be taking advantage of unrest among tribesmen who claim to have been denied the benefits of Baluchistan’s natural-gas fields.

Earlier this month, rebels disrupted gas production in a series of rocket and mortar attacks, which killed eight persons. However, Islamabad is delaying a formal complaint to Tehran in the hope that private diplomatic channels may prove more effective. Meanwhile, large numbers of troops are hunting rebels in the province.

Pakistani officials believe that Tehran — already furious at Pakistan’s support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism — has stepped up its activity in Baluchistan because of its anger at the construction of a vast deep-water port at Gwadar, close to the border, which it fears could be used by Washington as a base for monitoring and infiltrating Iran.

Washington believes Iran is pursuing an advanced nuclear-weapons program in addition to sponsoring international terrorism, and has repeatedly accused Tehran of fomenting trouble within Iraq.

Last week, journalist Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker that U.S. special forces had carried out recent reconnaissance missions inside Iran to identify nuclear, chemical and missile sites that could be targeted. Although the Bush administration brushed aside the claims, the report heightened the belief that the United States might be preparing to take action.

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