Islamabad, Pakistan – January 18, 2024
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry announced a series of retaliatory strikes in Iran’s Baluchistan region on January 18, heightening concerns of a potential new conflict in the already volatile Middle East.
The strikes, executed with a combination of drones, rockets, loitering munitions, and standoff weapons, targeted militants in the “Sistan and Baluchistan” province of Iran. Iranian state media reported casualties, including nine individuals, comprising three women and four children. Pakistani officials, in contrast, acknowledged only the deaths of what they termed as “a number of terrorists.”
The hostilities originated from Iranian strikes inside Pakistan on Tuesday, resulting in the tragic deaths of two children. Both nations asserted that their actions aimed at suppressing separatist militant groups with cross-border threats.
Caretaker Prime Minister “Anwaar-ul-HaqKakar” of Pakistan abruptly ended his visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, emphasizing the gravity of the situation. Pakistan’s military, one of the largest in the region, remains on high alert.
Recent attacks along the Pakistan-Iran border occurred against the backdrop of escalating tensions in the Middle East, notably Israel’s conflict with Iran-backed Hamas militants. The United States also conducted strikes against Iranian-backed Houthi militants in Yemen, further contributing to the regional instability.
While the strikes between Iran and Pakistan targeted local militant groups pursuing limited regional goals, the current geopolitical climate adds complexity to the situation. Pakistan focused its strikes on the Baluchistan Liberation Army and Baluchistan Liberation Front, groups claiming to represent the Baluch community across Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan.
Jaish al-Adl, the Sunni group targeted by Iran on Tuesday, similarly identifies as a Baluch separatist entity. However, Pakistani officials dispute the characterization of these groups as genuine representatives of the Baluch communities.
The motivations behind this week’s hostilities remain unclear. Analysts suggest that the absence of a specific trigger or a major separatist militant attack preceding Iran’s strikes indicates a calculated move by Tehran. Michael Kugelman, “Director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center,” notes that Iran likely seized the opportunity amid regional volatility to address long-standing concerns.
The severity of Pakistan’s retaliatory strikes, while unexpected, might open avenues for de-escalation. Kugelman underscores the non-hostile nature of the Pakistan-Iran relationship and the availability of channels for dialogue. However, he warns that any further strikes from either side could escalate tensions into a full-blown conflict.
In a broader context, these events align with a series of recent Iranian attacks in the region, including strikes in Iraq’s Kurdistan region and Syria. The implications of this escalation extend beyond immediate military considerations, affecting economic stability and geopolitical dynamics in the region.
As the situation unfolds, international observers closely monitor developments, hoping for diplomatic resolutions to prevent further deterioration of relations between Pakistan and Iran.