Following the seizure of five Iranian guards by Pakistani Sunni militants last week, Iran is threatening to send its own security forces into the country to recover their men. In an already unstable region, rising tensions between Pakistan and Iran could have major repercussions.

While it was long believed that Pakistan’s ISI controlled, or at least heavily influenced the various terrorist groups found in the region, their grip over said groups appears to be waning. With increasing frequency, terrorist groups are demonstrating an increased likelihood to act on their own.

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Iran and Pakistan divided along Sunni- Shia lines

Iran is a Shia dominated country, while Pakistan, along with most other Muslim nations, is a Sunni majority country. Most terrorist groups are also from a Sunni background. Shia and Sunni Muslims different in their views of who should have succeeded Mohammad the Prophet. This religious divide has made relations between Iran and many of its neighbors rather fragile.

Many hard-line Sunni groups view Shia Muslims and Iran in particular as enemies in much the same way they view the West as an enemy. While Iran has been largely successful in keeping its own borders safe, hard-line Sunni groups continue to target Iranian citizens.

Terrorists demanding prisoner swap

The terrorist group Jaish al-Adl has already claimed responsibility for the act. The group has stated that if Iran wants its soldiers released, it must secure the release of some 300 Sunni militants in Iranian and Syrian jails. Syria is being brought into the mix due to its close ties to Iran.

This past October, the very same group was responsible for killing some 14 members of Iran’s border guards, sparking outrage. The Pakistani government responded by rounding up and hanging 16 people who were believed to be involved in the attacks. Three Iranian Revolutionary Guard members were killed a few weeks later in a bomb blast.

Regardless, Iran is one of the regions biggest powers and is not likely to take the seizure of its troops lightly. Iran has demanded that Pakistan’s government secure the release of its soldiers. Reportedly, Pakistan is taking the issue seriously and government officials claim that political and military measures are being carried out to secure the release of the prisoners.

For an already unstable region, rising tensions between Iran and its neighbors will only lead to increased instability. And with internal and external pressures continuing to mount, it may only be a matter of time before the Pakistani government decides to launch a full-scale crack down on Pakistan’s many terrorist groups.