IRAN, PAKISTAN: Death of consular official in Peshawar raises stakes
He was leaving his home in Peshawar on his way to work this morning. That's when the motorcycles zipped by. A hail of gunfire ensued. Left behind by the gunmen were shell casings and the bullet-riddled body of Abul Hassan Jaffry, an employee at Iran's consulate in Peshawar.
The Pakistani citizen, the consul's public affairs chief, was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Iran’s state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported that Jaffry was shot at least four times. Local police in Peshawar said no one spotted the attackers, who, according to witnesses, disappeared on their motorcycles after opening fire on Jaffry.
So far, authorities have declined to speculate on the motives behind Jaffry’s killing. Both countries were quick to denounce the incident. Pakistan's foreign minister condemned the "heinous crime" and vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice. Iran said Jaffry’s killing was a "terrorist and inhumane act" and called on Pakistan to step up measures to ensure the protection of its staff.
Iran has long had a strained relationship with Pakistan, which has been accused of providing a safe haven for the Taliban. Iran holds the Sunni radicals responsible for the killing of nine Iranian diplomats at the Iranian consulate in Afghanistan’s northern city of Mazar-i- Sharif in 1998.
Before the day of the attack in early September 1998, Pakistani diplomats had relayed assurances to Tehran from the Taliban about the safety of the Iranian consulates and diplomats working at the consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif.
Tensions have spiked between Pakistan and Iran following a suicide bombing that killed 42 people in southeastern Iran last month. Fifteen members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, including six senior officials, were killed in the attack, for which the Sunni Muslim rebel group Jundullah (God's Soldiers) has claimed responsibility.
Iranian authorities say the rebels are hiding on the Pakistani side of the border and has called on Pakistan to hand over Jundallah’s leader, Abdolmalek Rigi. Pakistan insists that Rigi is operating out of Afghanistan.
Iran does not appear to be convinced.
Today, Iran's semiofficial Fars News Agency reported that Rigi had opened a new school in Pakistan where he was training suicide bombers to carry out attacks in Iran. Drug addicts from Pakistan's impoverished Baluchistan province were among those enrolled at the school, according to the Fars report.
Jaffry’s killing comes a year after the Iranian commercial attaché Heshmatollah Attarzadeh was kidnapped at gunpoint in Peshawar. The diplomat has been missing ever since.
-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut
Photo: The body of an Iranian consulate employee is carried to an ambulance. Credit: Mohammad Sajjad / Associated Press