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Pakistan Launches Retaliatory Strikes Against ‘Terrorist Hideouts’ in Iran


FILE - A Pakistani flag flies at a lookout in Islamabad, Pakistan, on July 27, 2022.
FILE - A Pakistani flag flies at a lookout in Islamabad, Pakistan, on July 27, 2022.

Pakistan said Thursday its military carried out strikes against “terrorist hideouts” in neighboring Iran two days after Tehran bombed what it said were “Iranian terrorists” sheltering on Pakistani soil.

The Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said its “highly coordinated and specifically targeted precision” military strikes killed a “number of terrorists” in Iran’s border province of Sistan-Baluchistan in what was codenamed “Death to Terrorist.”

“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 ministry said.

A security official told VOA anonymously that fighter planes conducted the bombings without entering the Iranian airspace and targeted camps of the anti-Pakistan Baluchistan Liberation Army, which is listed by the United States as a “specially designated global terrorist.”

“The precision strikes were carried out using killer drones, rockets, loitering munitions, and stand-off weapons. Maximum care was taken to avoid collateral damage,” a Pakistani military statement said later in the day without elaborating.

Iran’s state media quoted security officials as saying the Pakistani strikes killed at least seven “non-Iranian nationals” in the southeastern border city of Saravan. The dead reportedly included four children and three women.

The Pakistani retaliatory military action came after Iranian authorities said on Tuesday their “missiles and drone strikes” destroyed bases of an anti-Iran militant group, Jaish al-Adl, or the Army of Justice, in Pakistan’s border province of Baluchistan.

Sistan-Baluchistan, Iran
Sistan-Baluchistan, Iran

Islamabad condemned the strikes, saying they killed two children and several other civilians, vowing to respond accordingly.

Thursday’s military retaliation by Pakistan marked an unprecedented escalation in mutual tensions.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch told reporters at the regularly scheduled weekly media briefing on Thursday that the strikes should not be seen as an attack on Iran.

“This operation was not conducted against the state of Iran, against the institutions of Iran, or any military targets inside Iran. It was against terror targets,” Baloch said, adding that Pakistan considers Iran a close friend and has great respect and affection for the Iranian people.

Pakistan’s caretaker prime minister, Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, who is attending the World Economic Forum in Switzerland’s resort town of Davos, has cut his visit short in light of the recent developments and is returning to Pakistan, Baloch said. The caretaker foreign minister is also returning earlier than scheduled from Uganda.

The spokesperson said she was not aware if any high-level contact had taken place between Islamabad and Tehran or if any third-party mediation had occurred since Pakistan’s operation across the border. However, Baloch said Pakistan would continue to engage with Tehran.

A police officer stands guard at the main entry gate of Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Jan. 18, 2024.
A police officer stands guard at the main entry gate of Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Jan. 18, 2024.

“We will continue to engage with our neighbor Iran to ensure that peace prevails and that the two countries make concerted and coordinated efforts to combat the threat of terrorism,” she said.

Baloch said given Pakistan’s deep and historic ties with Iran, “it was very surprising, what happened two days ago.”

On Wednesday, Pakistan said it was recalling its ambassador from Tehran and suspending all bilateral engagements with Iran to protest the "unprovoked," deadly cross-border airstrike by Iranian security forces.

"Pakistan reserves the right to respond to this illegal act. The responsibility for the consequences will lie squarely with Iran," Baloch warned on Wednesday in a nationally televised statement.

She said that Islamabad had conveyed to the government in Tehran that the strikes were a "blatant breach" of Pakistan's sovereignty and a violation of international law.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, while speaking Wednesday on the sidelines of the meeting in Davos, defended the overnight strike.

"None of the nationals of the friendly and brotherly country of Pakistan were targeted by Iranian missiles and drones," he said. They hit "Iranian terrorists on the soil of Pakistan."

The cross-border attack followed Iranian strikes on targets in Iraq and Syria linked to what Tehran called "anti-Iranian terrorist groups."

The United States condemned the Iranian attacks.

“We’ve seen Iran violate the sovereign borders of three of its neighbors in just the past couple of days,” State Department spokesman Mathew Miller told reporters in Washington. “I think it is a little rich for – on one the 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, claims that it needs to take these actions to counter terrorism.”

The attack against suspected terrorist targets in Pakistan came hours after Prime Minister Kakar met with Amirabdollahian on the sidelines of the forum in Davos.

Iran’s strikes also occurred as Iranian and Pakistani navies were conducting a joint naval training exercise Tuesday in the Strait of Hormuz and the northern tip of the Persian Gulf to enhance cooperation and forge stronger relations, according to officials in both countries.

Pakistani opposition and hardline groups criticized what they called a muted response by Islamabad to the aggression by Tehran, demanding a military response. Others, such as veteran Senator Mushahid Hussain, stressed the need for nuclear-armed Pakistan to show restraint.

"Pakistan's response is both mature and measured, which is what the situation demands," said Hussain, who heads the Senate Defense Committee.

"However, the Iranian government must rein in its trigger-happy 'Deep State,' the Revolutionary Guards, whose actions are destabilizing the region and damaging Pakistan-Iran relations," he said.

China urged both countries Wednesday to exercise restraint and stressed that all countries' sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity should be respected.

"Iran and Pakistan are close neighbors and major Islamic countries. We call on the two sides to exercise restraint, avoid actions that escalate the tension, and jointly keep the region peaceful and stable," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told a news conference in Beijing.

“With Pakistan now having retaliated militarily against Iran, now is the time for third-party mediation to ensure that a sudden but increasingly dangerous crisis doesn’t spiral out of control,” said Michael Kugelman, the director of the South Asia Institute at Wilson Center in Washington. “Beijing is the most logical intermediary, and it has [the] capacity and leverage to succeed,” Kugelman wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Iran and Pakistan share a roughly 900-kilometer border, separating Iran’s turbulent southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan province and Pakistan's insurgency-hit Baluchistan.

Islamabad and Tehran routinely accuse each other of not doing enough to prevent anti-state armed groups from sheltering on their respective territories and plotting cross-border terrorist attacks against security forces on both sides.

Iran has long pressed Pakistan to crack down on alleged Jaish al-Adl bases in Baluchistan. The militant group from the Iranian Sunni Muslim minority claims to be fighting for greater rights for the community in the predominately Shiite Muslim country.

Last month, Jaish al-Adl claimed responsibility for killing around a dozen Iranian police officers in a raid near the Pakistani border, prompting Tehran to demand Islamabad move against the group's hideouts.

The Iranian foreign minister said Wednesday that the previous day's attack inside Pakistan was a response to the December raid by Jaish al-Adl on the police forces in the Iranian city of Rask in Sistan-Baluchistan.

Amirabdollahian said Iran respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan but would not "allow the country's national security to be compromised or played with."

For its part, Islamabad alleges that anti-Pakistan ethnic Baluch insurgent groups have established bases on the Iranian side of the border and from there direct deadly attacks on Pakistani security forces as well as civilians in impoverished, natural resources-rich Baluchistan.