What We Know: Iran-Pakistan Strikes

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What to Know:

Tensions have risen between Iran and Pakistan following a series of tit-for-tat strikes targeting different Baloch militant groups in each other’s territory.

Iran Strike:

On Tuesday, the IRGC launched a series of missiles strikes across the border into Pakistan’s Balochistan region, which targeted two strongholds of the Salafi extremist, Baloch-nationalist separatist group Army of Justice, which regularly carries out attacks against against Iranian forces along the border.

Both the Army of Justice and Pakistani government later reported that the strikes killed two children and damaged residential areas.

Iran’s strikes follows an attack by the group against a police station in Rask last month, which left 11 security force members dead and several others wounded.

Pakistan’s Reaction:

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry condemned the attack as a “blatant violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty,” further adding that official lines of communication were not utilized before the strikes.

“Pakistan has always said terrorism is a common threat to all countries in the region that requires coordinated action. Such unilateral acts are not in conformity with good neighborly relations and can seriously undermine bilateral trust and confidence,” the Ministry added.

Likewise, Pakistan recalled its ambassador to Iran and expelled the Iranian ambassador, effectively cutting diplomatic ties.

On Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry said that Pakistan “reserves the right to respond to this illegal act. The responsibility for the consequences will lie squarely with Iran.”

Pakistan Strike:

On Thursday, Pakistan announced that it had carried out “Marg Bar Sarmachar,” which was a “a series of highly coordinated and specifically targeted precision military strikes against terrorist hideouts in Siestan-o-Baluchistan province of Iran.”

The Ministry claimed that “This morning’s action was taken in light of credible intelligence of impending large scale terrorist activities by these so called Sarmachars.”

“Pakistan fully respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The sole objective of today’s act was in pursuit of Pakistan’s own security and national interest which is paramount and cannot be compromised.”

“Iran is a brotherly country and the people of Pakistan have great respect and affection for the Iranian people. We have always emphasized dialogue and cooperation in confronting common challenges including the menace of terrorism and will continue to endeavor to find joint solutions,” the statement added.

The strikes, which were carried out in the city of Saravan, targeted elements of the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), two other Baloch militant groups. The Pakistani Inter-Services Public Relations reported that the strikes were “carried out using killer drones, rockets, loitering munitions and stand-off weapons.”

Likewise, the Pakistan Army released a statement saying “because what Iran did was a violation of Pakistani sovereignty and a breach of all international covenants and conventions, the punishment was of the same type as action, and it was necessary to respond in kind.”

“For anyone who thinks of compromising the security of Pakistan; We will not warn, but our fingers are on the trigger, and our chant is God is Great,” it added.

Iran Reaction:

According to state media, the Iranian Foreign Ministry condemned the strikes as the Interior Ministry reported that nine foreign nationals were killed in the strikes, including women and children.

Likewise, the Foreign Ministry summoned the Pakistani chargé d’affaires to file a formal protest. Other than this, there has not been many details or statements coming from the Iranian government.

Why this Matters:

Iran and Pakistan have generally held warm relations with each other diplomatically, economically, and militarily, however, a point of contention between the two in recent years have been accusations that either are not doing enough to combat militant groups that operate in the greater Balochistan region.

Unlike Iran’s recent strikes in Syria and Iraq, which can be speculated as being a show of force to Israel, one can see the operations against the Army of Justice as a direct retaliation to last month’s attack.

As stated above, Pakistan’s main objections to the strikes were that they violated national sovereignty and no official lines of communication were used to give prior notice to the attack. With that, Pakistan carried out what it believes was a proportional retaliation against Iran to essentially say “If you want to attack militants in our country, we will attack them in yours.”

In essence, both countries are not only trying to say to each other that militant groups are operating within their borders, but also that they are not doing anything to combat them, thus foreign intervention is needed.

A Iranian response, if any, remains unclear at this time. The two could see the tit-for-tat strikes as “even” and move forward to resolve the situation to prevent escalation. On the other hand, Iran could move forward and continue to strike the Army of Justice inside Pakistani territory, which would likely result in continued Pakistani strikes against the BLA/F in Iranian territory.

Continued strikes against each not only puts civilians in the region at risk, but also runs the chance of strikes going awry and leading to a greater military escalation between the two.