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Pakistan Closes 8 Schools in Restive Southwest for Teaching Iranian Curriculum
In this picture taken on May 3, 2019, Pakistani students belonging to the Shiite Hazara minority Muslim community attend a class at a school in Hazara Town, a neighborhood in Quetta. (Banaras Khan/AFP via Getty Images)

Pakistan Closes 8 Schools in Restive Southwest for Teaching Iranian Curriculum

Iranian staff detained at illegal institutions in Balochistan Province

[Islamabad] Pakistani law enforcement agencies closed eight Iranian schools that were operating illegally in Quetta, capital of the restive southwestern province of Balochistan.

“The schools were run by Iranian staff and a specifically Iranian syllabus was being taught to the students,” Muhammad Zohaib-ul-Haq, the city’s top administrative official, told the Media Line on Tuesday.

“Two more Iranian schools have been sealed today, making a total of eight,” he added

“The textbooks discovered contain subjects only about Iran’s history, geography and sociology, not Pakistan’s. The principal and teachers are foreign nationals. Law enforcement agencies are conducting a continuing investigation,” he said.

During the operation, “unacceptable literature was also recovered from the schools, which the security agencies have seized,” Zohaib said.

The Iranian schools were established in Hazara Town, a heavily populated neighborhood on the western outskirts of Quetta. Most of the approximately 1.5 million residents are members of the Hazara Shia community, who speak a dialect of Persian.

Shabbir Ahmed, director of the Monitoring and Evaluation section for the Balochistan Education Foundation, told The Media Line “the sealed schools were established in 1991 under a memorandum of understanding with an Iranian NGO, but after that, the administration of these schools did not seek further permission.”

They “may have been receiving funding from a neighboring country; the financial affairs of these schools are under investigation by security agencies,” Ahmed said.

Syed Khalid Durrani, a senior intelligence official, told The Media Line that “for violating the state’s law, all staff of these schools were taken into custody.

“Since these schools were not affiliated with any educational authority in Pakistan, students were sent to Iran for further higher education,” he added.

“Law enforcement agencies are also investigating how many students who went to Iran have returned to Pakistan and what kind of activities they have engaged in after returning to Pakistan,” Durrani said. “A broad investigation has been launched in this regard.”

Pakistan shares a 596-mile border with Iran, separating Pakistan’s Balochistan Province from Iran’s Sistan and Balochistan Province. It is also at the center of the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor initiative, part of Beijing’s massive Belt and Road infrastructure development strategy.

Relations between Pakistan and Iran are not good when it comes to the cross-border security situation.

Militant groups, including the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), have been involved in deadly attacks against security forces, and Pakistani officials believe the militants’ safe havens and training centers are located in Iranian territory.

The United States designated the BLA a terrorist organization in July 2019.

In April 2017, Pakistan sentenced Kulbhushan Yadav, an Indian national, on charges of terrorism and spying, for alleged involvement in the province’s unrest at the behest of India’s foreign intelligence agency.

The Indian government said Yadav was a former naval officer but denied any current links with him.

However, the International Court of Justice in May 2017 stayed his execution at India’s urging, pending a final judgment. In July 2019, the court rejected India’s appeal for Yadav’s release and ordered Pakistan to review the entire process of trial and conviction.

An important question remains regarding the schools: How, amid tightened security, were Iranian institutions able to illegally operate for the last 30 years in the most sensitive city in Pakistan. No official agreed to respond to The Media Line’s questions on this issue.

Until Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran and Pakistan had deep economic, social and cultural ties.

Iran was the first country to recognize Pakistan upon its independence in 1947, and Reza Shah Pahlavi was the first foreign head of state to visit Pakistan, in 1950.

Iranian support for Pakistan during the 1965 and 1971 Pakistan-India wars was mentioned in textbooks.

After 1979, the Iranian revolutionary leadership repeatedly called on the Pakistani people to overthrow the government of longtime military ruler Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who Tehran considered pro-US. Still, due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran continued regional cooperation, despite the open involvement of the United States in the Afghan conflict.

Relations between Pakistan and Iran became further strained due to the rise in sectarian tension in the 1980s, as the Pakistani Shia community complained of discrimination under the Sunni-based Islamization program being imposed throughout the country by Zia.

The Media Line spoke with experts on the broad historical context of Pakistan-Iran relations.

Brig. Gen. (ret.) Khalid Hussain Kayani, an Islamabad-based war veteran and security analyst, told The Media Line that “after the defeat of the USSR in Afghanistan, a race between Pakistan and Iran started to expand their influence in Afghanistan.”

He continued, “On the other side, the Saudis were supporting Sunni groups, so the conflict augmented sectarian and regional tensions, resulting in Shia-Sunni violence in Pakistan. As a result, hundreds of people on both sides [Sunni-Shia] fell victim to sectarian terrorism.”

“When the Pakistan- and Saudi-backed Taliban captured Kabul in 1996, the regional alignment became clear, with India, Russia and Iran supporting Ahmad Shah Masoud’s Northern Alliance [in the Afghan conflict],” Kayani said.

“The Afghan war and the Taliban government further undermined the foundation of the relationship between two countries, and the time came when the cold-bloodedness and hostility became visible to the public,” he continued.

“In the past, when Pakistan was supporting the Taliban government in Afghanistan, anti-Pakistan demonstrations were seen in various cities of Iran and burning the Pakistani flag or trampling it underfoot was characteristic of these demonstrations,” Kayani said.

“Iran has a kind of a dictatorial system, so demonstrations against any other country can only be carried out with the patronage or approval of the government. This shows that these anti-Pakistan sentiments were a reflection of Iranian government policy,” he added.

“The Indian spy Kulbhushan Yadav also entered Pakistan through Iran and carried out a wide range of terrorist activities in Balochistan,” Kayani said. “Since the border area between Iran and Pakistan is closely monitored by Iran, Kulbhushan’s entry into Pakistan would have been possible only with the cooperation of Iranian border officials.”

Ahsan Ullah Khan, a Dubai-based former senior diplomat who accompanied then-Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf during his visit to Tehran in November 2001, told The Media Line, “After 9/11, when the Taliban regime in Afghanistan came to an end, President Musharraf paid a surprise visit to Tehran and the graph of Iran-Pakistan tensions over Afghanistan began to fall.

“In 2002, [then-Iranian] President Mohammad Khatami paid a three-day official visit to Pakistan. No agreement was signed, and after a month Khatami visited India and signed various accords on defense and economic cooperation,” Khan said.

“These agreements led Pakistani policymakers to conclude that although tensions in Iran-Pakistan relations have eased since the fall of the Taliban regime, relations with Iran might not be as warm as before due to the new global alignment,” he added.

“Another turning point in relations between the two countries came in February 2004, when Pakistan’s nuclear scientist Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan admitted on national television that nuclear technology had been transferred from Pakistan to North Korea, Libya and Iran,” Ahsan Ullah Khan said.

“Many Pakistani diplomats know that Iran’s revolutionary government never wanted Pakistan to become a nuclear power,” he noted.

“Under the policies of Prime Minister Imran Khan, relations between the two neighboring countries have improved,” the former diplomat said.

In October 2019, Prime Minister Khan visited Tehran, at a time of heightened tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, mostly due to attacks that Riyadh blamed on Tehran.

Khan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani agreed that in the interest of security and stability, they would work together to resolve regional issues.

In April 2021, Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, visited Iran and met with Rouhani.

Qureshi wrote on Twitter that he had shared with the Iranian president Pakistan’s commitment to deepening relations with Iran in trade, investment, connectivity and border management for mutual economic development.

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