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Pakistan classifies Iran-backed Zainebiyoun Brigade as terrorist group

April 22, 2024 at 7:33 pm

Pakistan and Iran Flags. [Getty Images]

Pakistan has officially classified the Iran-backed Shia militia, Zainebiyoun Brigade, as a terrorist organisation, amid the ongoing tensions with Iran and the group’s potential risk to national security.

According to the American news outlet, The Media Line, Pakistan’s Ministry of Interior Affairs released a public notification on 11 April which announced the classification of the Zainebiyoun Brigade on the terrorist organisation blacklist due to the group being “involved in activities that are deemed detrimental to the peace and security of the country”.

Over the past decade, the group – set up, backed, armed and supervised by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) – has operated in Syria and fought alongside the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad.

Comprised primarily of an estimated 5,000 fighters hailing from Pakistan’s extensive Shia community in some areas in the country, the militia has reportedly been monitored over the past decade by Pakistani security agencies, which have not carried out an official and widespread crackdown on the militants and their activities until now due to the fact that they apparently did not pose an immediate threat to the country’s national security.

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According to an anonymous senior official familiar with the issue who spoke to The Media Line said that the group’s members have recently been engaging in certain activities that could destabilise peace and security in Pakistan. Security services are also notably concerned about the potential risk fighters could pose upon their return to Pakistan, considering that much of the conflict in Syria has died down in recent years.

A key element of the classification of the militia as a terror group is, however, likely the increasingly strained relations between Pakistan and Iran in recent months, following Iran’s violation of Pakistani airspace and the killing of civilians in an airstrike back in January. In response, Islamabad launched a retaliatory strike on Iranian territory, as well as recalling its ambassador from Tehran and forbidding the Iranian ambassador from returning to his post.

Another potential reason for the ban could also be the Pakistani government and military establishment’s aim to align its policies with those of the United States, with the paper quoting Syed Qandil Abbas, political analyst and professor at the School of Political and International Relations (SPIR) at Quaid-i-Azam University, as saying that the blacklisting “can be in line with US regional interests, as the Zainebiyoun Brigade along with Fatimiyon was already put under US sanctions in 2019”.

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