Why Iran, Pakistan Are Attacking Each Other, What It Means For Middle East

Iran and Pakistan share a volatile border, stretching about 900 kilometers, and have long fought Baloch terrorists in the region.

Why Iran, Pakistan Are Attacking Each Other, What It Means For Middle East
New Delhi:

An Iranian strike on Pakistan earlier this week drew a rapid military retaliation and the unprecedented escalation has raised fears of greater regional turmoil. The strikes come at a time when tensions have risen sharply across the Middle East.

Iran and Pakistan share a volatile border, stretching about 900 kilometers, and have long fought Baloch terrorists in the region. The Baloch people reside at the convergence of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. Historically, they have demonstrated a strong inclination towards independence, harboring resentment for being governed by both Islamabad and Tehran. Terrorism has persisted in the porous border region for decades.

Despite the region's abundance of natural resources, Baloch separatists argue that their communities, among the most impoverished in the area, have reaped minimal benefits. Balochistan, Pakistan's largest province in terms of land area, has experienced a series of deadly attacks in recent years. These incidents are fueled by a long-standing insurgency led by separatists seeking independence. Their discontent stems from what they perceive as the state's monopolisation and exploitation of the region's mineral wealth.

While Iran and Pakistan share a common separatist enemy, it is highly unusual for either side to attack militants on each other's soil.

The latest strikes come as Iran's allies in the Middle East launch attacks on Israeli forces and its supporters against the backdrop of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

Iran sent shockwaves around the region on Tuesday with a missile strike against what it described as hardline Sunni Muslim terrorists in southwest Pakistan. Two days later, Pakistan in retaliation attacked what it said were "terror hideouts" in Iran - the first air strike on Iranian soil since the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

Tuesday's strike was one of Iran's toughest cross-border assaults on the terror group Jaish al-Adl group in Pakistan, which it says has links to Islamic State. Many of Jaish's members previously belonged to a now-defunct terror group known as Jundallah that had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

Analysts suggest that the recent strike on Pakistan was primarily driven by Iran's internal security concerns rather than ambitions for regional dominance.

Pakistan said it had for years complained that terrorists had "safe havens and sanctuaries" in Iran – and was forced to take matters into its own hands with Thursday's strikes.

This move has heightened concerns about the stability of the Middle East, which have been escalating since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas conflict in October. Iran-backed militias, extending from Yemen to Lebanon, have carried out attacks on US and Israeli targets, including incidents involving Red Sea shipping, in solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza.

But in their statements, after the tit-for-tat blows, neither government sought to make a link to the Gaza war or to attacks carried out in support of Palestinians by a network of Arab militias allied to Iran from the Mediterranean to the Gulf.

Experts say that Iran's actions are not isolated but are part of a larger regional conflict where the country seems to be taking a more proactive stance beyond its borders. The United States' delicate balancing act between de-escalation and asserting military strength in the region may be emboldening Iran to pursue targets outside its borders.

The situation remains complex, with underlying issues of border security and longstanding tensions between Iran and Pakistan. Experts suggest that de-escalation will be challenging in the short term, given the heightened tensions. The possibility of diplomatic dialogue and third-party mediation, possibly from a country like China, has been proposed to navigate the delicate situation and prevent further escalation.