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Updated January 18th, 2024 at 19:57 IST

Iran-Pakistan engage in missile strikes over terrorism, propelling Islamabad into a 3-front quandary

Iran's recent missile strikes in Pakistan's Balochistan, followed by retaliatory strikes by Pakistan inside Iranian territory, have intensified tensions.

Yuvraj Tyagi
3-front for Pakistan
Iran's recent air and missile strikes in Pakistan's Balochistan province, followed by retaliatory strikes by Pakistan inside Iranian territory, have intensified regional tensions. | Image:Republic
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Tehran: In a profound development, Iran's recent air and missile strikes against targets in Pakistan's Balochistan province, and Pakistan’s retaliatory airstrikes nearly 50 Kms inside Iranian territory, have opened a new and challenging front for Islamabad, adding to existing tensions with India and Afghanistan. This strategic shift marks a significant escalation, demanding careful consideration of the geopolitical landscape and potential consequences.

Iran's decision to launch targeted strikes in Balochistan adds a layer of complexity to an already intricate regional scenario. The history of accusations against Jaish-ul-Adl, a group responsible for cross-border attacks, has been a persistent source of tension between Iran and Pakistan. The recent strikes, reportedly ordered by Iran's Supreme Leader, targeted Jaish-ul-Adl bases in the Balochistan province. 

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The incident raises pertinent questions about the motivations behind Iran's move and the potential fallout. However, previous incidents, including a 2021 surgical strike by Iran to rescue two kidnapped Iranian soldiers and a 2018 suicide bombing by Pakistani terrorists, which killed 27 Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) troops, indicate the longstanding nature of the conflict and the challenges in finding a lasting resolution. 

Pakistan's multifaceted challenge: Navigating three fronts  

With Iran's strikes, Pakistan now finds itself embroiled in a complex three-front challenge. The historical tensions with India, marked by surgical strikes and airstrikes, continue to shape the eastern front. In the west, clashes with Afghanistan's military persist, complicating an already fragile relationship. Now, the addition of Iran as a potential adversary further underscores the intricate web of regional dynamics.

This latest attack by Iranian forces was reportedly ordered by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. While Iran claimed the strikes neutralized “dangerous terrorists,” Islamabad condemned the action and stated that the move resulted in the deaths of two children while three others were injured.

An IAF Su-30. | Credit- IAF

Notably, Pakistan seems to be surrounded by an increasing number of belligerents, given its history of being a hub for terrorist organizations. Previously, India has carried out surgical strikes against terror launch pads in Pakistan, with the latest surgical strike being carried out in September 2016, in response to the dastardly attack by Pakistani terrorists on Indian Army’s camp in Uri, Kashmir. Furthermore, the Indian Air Force carried out airstrikes in Pakistan’s Balakot in February 2019, after a convoy of CRPF vehicles was struck by a vehicle-borne suicide bomber at Lethpora in Kashmir’s Pulwama district. The attack resulted in the deaths of 46 CRPF personnel.

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Afghan army special forces. | Credit- AP

On the other hand, Afghanistan has had a history of clashes with Pakistani military. Even after the Taliban’s takeover of the nation, Islamabad’s ties with Kabul have not seen improvement. Despite its backing of the Taliban government in the initial days of the takeover, Pakistan military clashed with Taliban fighters on several occasions on the Durand Line. Notably, in April 2022, the Pakistani military conducted predawn airstrikes in Afghanistan's Khost and Kunar provinces, resulting in civilian casualties. Conflicting reports from Afghan and Pakistani officials surround the nature of the strikes, with Pakistan initially denying involvement.

Pakistan Army troops patrolling near the Durand Line. | Credit- AP

The predawn airstrikes on Afghanistan were reportedly in response to an attack on a Pakistani military convoy in North Waziristan, which claimed the lives of seven Pakistani soldiers. The Pakistani media and some Afghan outlets claim that the strikes targeted militants belonging to Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). While initial reports suggested rocket or aerial strikes, Pakistani security officials later claimed drone strikes from within Pakistani airspace. The Taliban administration in Kabul acknowledged civilian deaths, diplomatically protested the incident, but refrained from releasing casualty figures.

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Pakistan’s Operation ‘Marg Bar Sarmachar’ 

Responding to Iranian strikes and adopting a tit-for-tat tactic, Pakistan launched airstrikes against Iran under the operation codenamed "Marg Bar Sarmachar" (Death to Guerrilla Fighters). The operation allegedly targeted separatist militant hideouts in Iran's southeastern Sistan and Baluchistan province. As per Pakistan's foreign ministry, the strikes were highly coordinated and specifically targeted.

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The operation was carried out some 50 Kms inside Iranian territory, making Pakistan the only nation to strike inside Iran since the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). Meanwhile, the strikes were met with swift condemnation from Tehran, following which Iranian officials disclosed reports of explosions near the city of Saravan, resulting in civilian casualties.

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The airstrikes and their aftermath have created a complex situation with far-reaching implications. As the region grapples with these developments, the international community watches closely, aware of the potential repercussions of a multifront conflict. The delicate balance between strategic interests, national security concerns, and diplomatic efforts becomes ever more critical. The repercussions of actions taken in the heat of the moment have far-reaching consequences that could shape the regional landscape for years to come.

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Published January 18th, 2024 at 19:42 IST

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