Pakistan has hit Iran with what it described as “highly coordinated” military strikes, a little more than 24 hours after Iranian air raids in Balochistan, further raising tensions between the neighbours and sparking fears of a broader conflict.
On Thursday morning, according to a statement from its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Pakistan conducted what it called an “intelligence-based operation” against hideouts of armed groups in the Sistan-Baluchestan province of Iran.
Iranian state television said at least nine people were killed in the attacks. Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the senior-most Pakistani diplomat in Tehran to “offer explanations” for the attacks.
Pakistan said its attack was based on “credible intelligence” of “impending large scale terrorist activities” from across the border. The operation was codenamed “Marg Bar Sarmachar” (Death to Sarmachar).
“Over the last several years, in our engagements with Iran, Pakistan has consistently shared its serious concerns about the safe havens and sanctuaries enjoyed by Pakistani origin terrorists calling themselves ‘Sarmachars’ on the ungoverned spaces inside Iran. Pakistan also shared multiple dossiers with concrete evidence of the presence and activities of these terrorists,” the ministry said in its statement.
“However, because of lack of action on our serious concerns, these so-called Sarmachars continued to spill the blood of innocent Pakistanis with impunity,” it said. “This action [Pakistan’s missile strike] is a manifestation of Pakistan’s unflinching resolve to protect and defend its national security against all threats.”
The Pakistani response came a day after Iran launched air raids using “drones and missiles” against Jaish al-Adl, an armed group, near Panjgur city in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan, bordering Iran. Tehran has accused the Jaish al-Adl of multiple attacks in the past.
Pakistan reacted to the Iranian action – which killed two children and injured three others – calling it “unacceptable” and said the country reserves the right to respond to this “illegal act”.
But the Pakistani ministry statement on Thursday also suggested that Islamabad did not want to provoke an escalation in tensions.
“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,” the statement added.
Pakistan had earlier recalled its envoy from Tehran in a series of moves to show its displeasure over the Iranian attack. It also said it would bar Iran’s ambassador to Islamabad – who is currently out of Pakistan – from returning to the mission.
Pakistan’s interim Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar met Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian in Switzerland on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday, hours before Iran’s attack.
However, on Wednesday, Amirabdollahian said the attack on “Pakistan’s soil” was in response to the group’s recent attacks on the Iranian city of Rask in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan.
Emphasising that while Iran respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan, he said the country would make no compromises on its own security.
“The group has taken shelter in some parts of Pakistan’s Balochistan province. We have talked with Pakistani officials several times on this matter,” he added.