Sovereign Disputes: Iran’s Cross-Border Conflict

Team Udayavani, Jan 18, 2024, 11:06 AM IST

On Wednesday, Pakistan reduced its diplomatic ties with Iran, calling back its ambassador from Tehran and ordering the Iranian ambassador in Islamabad to leave. This decision followed Iran’s missile and drone attacks in Panjgur, Balochistan the previous day.

Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, the spokesperson for Pakistan’s Foreign Office, stated that Pakistan retains the right to respond to these strikes, which she labeled as unjustified and unlawful. Ms. Baloch emphasized in her statements following the incident the potential repercussions for Iran due to its actions.

Pakistan has made the decision to bring back its ambassador from Iran and has indicated that the Iranian ambassador to Pakistan, who is presently in Iran, might not be allowed to return for now,” she stated.

In addition to diplomatic measures, a high-ranking official told Dawn in a phone call that a military response has not been ruled out, noting that Pakistan’s response is still in development.

Furthermore, all high-level bilateral visits, whether in progress or scheduled, have been cancelled. The Iranian charge d’affaires in Islamabad was summoned to the Foreign Office to express Pakistan’s strong disapproval of the incident.

Pakistan views the Iranian missile attacks as a violation of its sovereignty and a possible trigger for wider regional unrest, especially concerning given the current strained atmosphere in the area.
India’s involvement adds complexity, as it undertakes necessary counterterrorism measures against Pakistan to ensure regional stability.

India’s involvement adds complexity, as it undertakes necessary counterterrorism measures against Pakistan to ensure regional stability.

Diplomatic sources indicate that the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) of Iran was behind the violation, and despite having several communication channels between Iran and Pakistan, the operation was executed in violation of international law, infringing upon Pakistan’s airspace.

Experts believe that while Pakistan might consider a direct military retaliation, this incident is more likely to push Pakistan towards aligning with Iran’s adversaries as a strategic move.

The missile attacks by Iran, which Tehran asserts were aimed at Jaish al-Adl militant bases in Pakistan, are among a series of recent Iranian assaults in Syria and Iraq. These were conducted in retaliation to terrorist attacks on Iranian soil. These Iranian operations have raised alarms about the stability of the region, especially considering the existing conflicts in the Middle East.

Last month, Iran alleged that members of Jaish al-Adl, after crossing into Iran from Pakistan, attacked a police station in Rask, a town located in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan province. This incident resulted in the loss of 11 Iranian security personnel.Following the incident, Iran’s Interior Minister, Ahmad Vahidi, urged Pakistan to dismantle the safe havens of the militant group within its borders. In response, Pakistan’s interim Foreign Minister, Jalil Abbas Jilani, in talks with the Iranian foreign minister, reiterated Islamabad’s dedication to working together to combat terrorism.

In discussions with Pakistani authorities, both in Islamabad and Tehran, following the attack, Iranian diplomats sought to defend their solo operation. Foreign Minister Abdollahian made a public statement, clarifying that the strike was aimed at an “Iranian terrorist group” on Pakistani soil, and emphasized that “Iranian missiles and drones did not target any citizens of the friendly and brotherly nation of Pakistan.”He explained that the strikes in Balochistan were Iran’s reaction to the attacks in Rask.

Nevertheless, this isn’t the initial instance of violence originating from Iran leading to fatalities in Pakistan. In January 2023, terrorist acts, attributed to Iranian militants, resulted in the death of four security officers in Panjgur.In April, there was also an incident where Pakistani forces in Kech were the targets of another attack.

The missile and drone attacks took place unexpectedly for Islamabad, occurring just a day after joint naval exercises between Pakistan and Iran in the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf, and mere hours following the interim Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar’s discussion with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in Davos.

There was no official statement from the Prime Minister’s Office regarding the meeting. However, Iranian media reported that topics like terrorism were on the agenda. According to these reports, Mr. Kakar highlighted the significance of ties between Tehran and Islamabad, expressing a desire to enhance these relations. He noted that both nations are dealing with similar issues such as terrorism and emphasized the need for collaborative efforts and cooperation to mitigate such threats.

The Foreign Minister of Iran reiterated his nation’s commitment to respecting Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Nevertheless, he stressed that Tehran would not permit any compromise to its national security.

Subsequently, in a gesture that appeared to be an effort by Iran to ease tensions, Mr. Abdollahian reached out to FM Jilani, who was in Kampala, Uganda for the ministerial meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement, to explain Iran’s stance on the matter.

The ongoing issue of terrorist sanctuaries has been a longstanding strain on the relationship between the two countries, with both sides blaming each other for not adequately tackling terrorist groups operating from their territories. Despite occasional joint efforts against these militants, which have improved border security to some extent, a considerable lack of trust has impeded meaningful collaboration. This has allowed terrorist factions to persist with their disruptive activities along both sides of the border.

Pakistan has implemented major steps, such as constructing a fence along a substantial portion of its border with Iran and executing military operations against militants in the border vicinity. These efforts are aimed at curbing the cross-border movement of terrorists and addressing Iran’s worries about groups like Jaish al-Adl, which are believed to be operating from Pakistani territory.

Amid rising tensions, the scheduled Joint Border Trade Committee meeting in Chabahar was called off, leading to the early return of the Pakistani delegation, which was also set to attend the Chabahar Free Zone Festival. Deputy Commissioner of Gwadar, Aurangzeb Badini, stated that the delegation returned following directives from the federal government. The 35-member Pakistani delegation, headed by Chief Collector Aftab Iqbal Memon, was initially planned to participate in the Joint Border Trade Committee meeting.

On Wednesday, Beijing called for calm and cooperation from both Pakistan and Iran to preserve regional peace and stability.

During a press conference in Beijing, Mao Ning, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, emphasized the need to steer clear of actions that might heighten tensions.

This appeal for moderation arrives at a pivotal moment, as worries mount over the potential effects of these strikes on the stability of the region and the diplomatic ties between Iran and Pakistan.

On Wednesday, the United States expressed disapproval of Iran’s recent strikes in Pakistan, Iraq, and Syria, which Iran justified as actions against “anti-Iranian terrorist groups.”

“We do condemn these attacks. In just a few days, we’ve observed Iran infringing upon the sovereign territories of three neighboring countries,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller informed the media.

Speaking in Washington, Miller remarked: “It’s quite contradictory for Iran, as the primary sponsor of terrorism and instability in the region, to claim that these measures are necessary to counteract terrorism.”

By Girish Linganna

(The author of this article is a Defence, Aerospace & Political Analyst based in Bengaluru. He is also Director of ADD Engineering Components, India, Pvt. Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany. You can reach out to him at: [email protected])

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