Mint Primer | Iran-Pakistan missile spat: Is the West Asian conflict widening?

A man watches a news channel on television inside a shop after the Pakistani foreign ministry said the country conducted strikes inside Iran targeting separatist militants, two days after Tehran said it attacked Israel-linked militant bases inside Pakistani territory, in Peshawar, Pakistan January 18, 2024.  (REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz)
A man watches a news channel on television inside a shop after the Pakistani foreign ministry said the country conducted strikes inside Iran targeting separatist militants, two days after Tehran said it attacked Israel-linked militant bases inside Pakistani territory, in Peshawar, Pakistan January 18, 2024. (REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz)

Summary

  • After a missile by Iran landed in Pakistan's Baluchistan province, things got heated between the two countries
  • But both seem to have reached a settlement

After days being locked in a dangerous-looking military confrontation, Pakistan and Iran appear to have settled the immediate crisis. Iran launched the first missile strike, hitting a terror base in Pakistan’s Baluchistan. Just what’s going on here? Mint explains.

What exactly happened?

Iran launched a missile attack at reported terror camps in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province last week. The target was Jaish al-Adl, which operates in Pakistan and Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province. Founded in 2012 it had claimed responsibility for an attack on an Iranian police station in December. Pakistan condemned the attack saying it had killed two minor girls. In response, it launched attacks on Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan province against what it termed “terrorist hideouts" which killed nine, and recalled its ambassador in Tehran. Now their foreign ministers have spoken and defused tensions.

Why did these attacks take place?

The Iranian attack followed similar strikes on Syria and Iraq. Experts say Iran launched the strikes in retaliation for two attacks over the last few weeks: one killed 94 people attending a memorial for a general and the other killed a commander. They say Tehran launched the strikes to send a message to its people and regional powers that Iran remains strong on national security. Once the strikes had taken place, Pakistan’s army had little option but to retaliate given reputational concerns. It too suffered serious setbacks with internal political instability and terror attacks that have killed scores of people.

How did India respond to the crisis?

“...We have an uncompromising position of zero tolerance towards terrorism. We understand actions that countries take in their self-defence," said the Indian spokesperson. Observers said the stance showed a tilt toward Iran. New Delhi and Tehran have long maintained a dialogue on terrorism and security, with a wary eye on Islamabad’s policies in the region.

What did other global powers say?

The US condemned Iran’s strikes in Iraq, Syria and Pakistan. “I think it is a little rich, for on one hand, Iran to be the leading funder of terrorism in the region, the leading funder of instability in the region; and on the other hand, (to) claim that it needs to take these actions to counter terrorism," said the US spokesperson. China urged both sides to exercise restrain. The two should “avoid actions that escalate the tension and jointly keep the region peaceful and stable," said the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson.

Can this exacerbate the West Asian crisis?

The strikes on Pakistan, coupled with those on Iraq and Syria, raised concerns that Iran’s actions would worsen the crisis caused by Israel’s war in Gaza and Houthi retaliation on ships in the Red Sea. Iran backs Houthis in Yemen, along with a number of other “resistance" forces like Hezbollah and groups in Iraq and Syria. Others said the strikes on Pakistan represent a limited escalation of a local issue: a volatile border that has been a hotbed of terror. The quick resolution of the crisis may underscore that point.

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