Pakistan, Iran Ease Tensions After Tit-For-Tat Missile Strikes

The recent exchange of deadly airstrikes on militant targets has heightened regional tensions, already strained by the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

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The Baluchistan region has long been a hotspot for militant activities.

New Delhi:

Pakistan and Iran on Friday agreed to de-escalate tensions that arose from a series of military actions in the border region of Baluchistan. The recent exchange of deadly airstrikes on militant targets has heightened regional tensions, already strained by the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

The situation unfolded with Iran initiating a missile and drone attack on what it termed "terrorist" targets in Pakistan Tuesday night. In response, Pakistan conducted precision strikes on militant targets inside Iran on Thursday. The tit-for-tat actions prompted both nations to recall their ambassadors, raising concerns about the potential closure of borders and its impact on the local population.

The international community, including the United Nations and the United States, called for restraint, while China offered to mediate between the two countries. However, a phone conversation between Pakistan's Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani and his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian has paved the way for both nations to defuse the situation.

A joint statement released by Islamabad's foreign ministry highlighted their agreement to "de-escalate the situation" and strengthen coordination on counter-terrorism and other mutual concerns.

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"The Foreign Minister stressed that respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty must underpin this cooperation," the Pakistani foreign ministry said in a statement. 

What Happened

The Baluchistan region shared between Pakistan and Iran, has long been a hotspot for militant activities. The recent events saw Iran carrying out a missile and drone strike on what it deemed "terrorist" targets in Pakistan, triggering a retaliatory response from Pakistan on Thursday. 

The rare military actions escalated tensions, prompting Pakistan to recall its ambassador from Tehran and block the return of Iran's envoy to Islamabad.

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A collective death count of 11 -- mostly women and children -- was reported from both sides of the border, as per news agency AFP. 

Political Implications In Pakistan 

Against this backdrop, Pakistan's caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar held an emergency security meeting, cutting short his visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, with the general elections scheduled to take place on February 8.

"The forum reiterated the unflinching resolve that sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan are absolutely inviolable," said a statement released by Kakar's office. "Any attempt by anyone to breach it on any pretext will be responded with [the] full might of the state."

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"The meeting also concluded that in line with the universal principles governing the conduct of good neighbourly relations, the two countries would mutually be able to overcome minor irritants through dialogue and diplomacy and pave the way to further deepen their historic relations," the statement read.

The security meeting stressed that Pakistan and Iran should "address each other's security concerns in the larger interest of regional peace and stability".

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In the remote villages near the strike site, villagers expressed concerns over the potential fallout of deteriorating relations. Fears of border closures loomed large, threatening to cut off residents from Iranian trade, a crucial source of employment and food imports. 

Experts believe that the Baluch separatist insurgency, already simmering for decades, could be further fueled by economic hardship resulting from a closed border.

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"If Iranians close the border, the people will starve and it will cause more militancy because youth will join the separatist organisations," said 55-year-old Haji Mohammad Islam, one of the villagers as quoted by news agency AFP. 

Who Said What

Following the skirmish, India underlined its "zero tolerance" stance towards terrorism, but has also said it understands "actions that countries take in their self-defence".

"This is a matter between Iran and Pakistan. Insofar as India is concerned, we have an uncompromising zero tolerance towards terrorism. We understand actions that countries take in their self-defence," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal told a press briefing.

Condemning Iran's actions, the US State Department said, "I think it is a little rich... on one hand Iran (is) the leading funder of terrorism in the region, and, on the other hand, (it claims) it needs to take these actions to counter-terrorism."

Maintaining a neutral position, China said, "We call on the two sides to avoid actions that escalate tension, and jointly keep the region peaceful."

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