How Murder of Diplomats in Mazar-e-Sharif 23 Years ago Permanently Scarred Iran-Pak Ties (Opinion)

Known for their long memories, the Iranians have once again bugled that, from their side, there is no closure to the tragedy.

Exactly 23 years ago on August 8, 11 Iranians including eight diplomats and one journalist were murdered in cold blood in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

The killings in 1998 after the Taliban had overrun the city, known as a trading hub, when commerce flourished along the Silk Road, was pivotal in embittering ties between Iran and Pakistan. The embers of the sorrowful incident are still aglow.

Known for their long memories, the Iranians have once again bugled that, from their side, there is no closure to the tragedy.

It added: “23 years ago, on such a day, Iranian diplomats and an Iranian reporter were martyred at the country’s consulate general in the Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, in an act of cowardice and in violation of commitments made to Tehran as well as international regulations and treaties and the human and Islamic common sense.”

“August 8 marks one of the most bitter days for the diplomatic arm of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” read an Iran foreign ministry statement released on Saturday.

Unsurprisingly, the foreign ministry vowed that it will not rest till all dimensions of the incident are revealed. The Islamic Republic of Iran “pledges to pursue the issue as an obvious demand of the Iranian government and nation until the hidden aspects of the incident come to light,” the statement said. It stressed that Tehran “honours the memory of the martyrs of this incident and, once more, strongly condemns the executed act of terrorism”.

Analysts say that Iran’s fury is directed at Pakistan as the hand of the Pak-based hard-line Sunni organisation Sipah-e-Shahaba Pakistan (SSP) is suspected in the execution of the murders.

It is widely acknowledged that the SSP, with links to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), is the mothership of a number of internationally proscribed terror groups, including the ultra-radical Lashkar-e-Jahangvi (LeJ).

According to a BBC report, the LeJ was formed after it broke away from the SSP under the leadership of Riaz Basra.

It prospered in Afghanistan after it aligned with the Taliban, sharing the ideology of the Deobandi tradition of Islam. Several training camps were established, where not only anti-Shia militants were trained along with Pakistani criminals and militants who had found refuge across the Durand line. Basra was killed in 2002 but after the group had hooked up with Al-Qaeda.

The SSP is also believed to be the parent of Jaish-e-Mohammed which has been banned by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). According to a leaked US cable, the group, which is part of the so-called Kashmir Jihad, traces its roots to the SSP stable, and is protected by the ISI. “JeM has had a long-standing relationship with intelligence agencies, and…it is the only militant outfit still under Inter-Service Intelligence’s (ISI) protective umbrella,” the cable revealed.

The Iranians have ensured that the memory of the infamous August 8 incident does not fade away with time.

August 8 is observed as National Journalists’ Day in Iran, commemorating the memory of Mahmoud Saremi, the IRNA correspondent who was killed in the consulate attack. Noted Iranian filmmaker, Abdolhassan Barzideh directed the film Mazar Sharif based on this incident.

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