Khamenei used the meeting to espouse conspiracy theories, which he used to explain away recent troubles on the Iran-Pakistan border. Just last week, Iranian police forces arrested a number of individuals in the nation’s southeastern-most province, on the accusation that they were planning acts of terrorism. The previous week, and Iranian fencing champion was taken hostage in the province, and in February five Iranian border guards were taken hostage in Pakistan.
Responsibility for the hostage taking and for other actions has been claimed by a Sunni rebel group, Jaish al-Adl. However, Khamenei today blamed “foreign elements” including the US for taking unspecified steps to “foment insecurity on the long, shared border” and to otherwise destabilize relations between Iran and Pakistan.
Reclaiming stability between the two nations is a topic of great importance to the Iranian regime, since Pakistan is poised to be a significant partner in renewed oil exports and in circumventing Western-led sanctions in the event that they are reinstated, causing Iran to focus more on regional barter in lieu of cooperating with UN demands regarding its nuclear program and human rights violations.
President Hassan Rouhani met with Prime Minister Sharif on Sunday, the first day of his visit, and urged him to recommit Pakistan to the 7.5 billion dollar joint pipeline project that was stalled in the face of sanctions prior to the latest set of negotiations with world powers over Iran’s nuclear program. These efforts come amidst a series of Iranian announcements about other pipeline projects and purported agreements to assist with drilling in Turkmenistan and Tunisia, all of which suggest growing Iranian control over oil production in and around the Middle East.
Khamenei’s seemingly paranoid remarks about foreign infiltration belie Iran’s confidence in ongoing negotiations with the West. They imply that the Supreme Leader is keenly aware that there are reasons why the US and its allies would be opposed to closer Iranian-Pakistani relations.
Of course, Khamenei gave no evidence that foreign elements have had a role in attacks, kidnappings, or any other questionable activities at the border with Pakistan. Nor did he provide any reason to doubt local claims of responsibility. Rather, his remarks to the Pakistani PM relied on the assumption of his distrust of the West and his willingness to be confrontational towards it in the event that broader Asian coalitions are formed around control of oil supplies. Khamenei told Sharif that the US government’s “wickedness is publicly clear.”