HomeDiplomacyPakistan-Iran Relations: Seeking Stability

Pakistan-Iran Relations: Seeking Stability

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In a late-January meeting caretaker Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Jalil Abbas Jilani, and his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian expressed their commitment to respecting each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. This declaration came in the aftermath of missile strikes by both countries on what they claim to be militant targets.

Three weeks after carrying out deadly airstrikes, Iran and Pakistan transitioned from military actions to discussions on promoting bilateral cooperation and trade. This diplomatic shift showed a mature approach that could set a precedent for managing future bilateral ties. Instead of resorting to war or prolonged conflict, both nations judiciously opted to enhance cooperation in cross-border security.

On January 16, Iran conducted an unforeseen missile strike in the Southwestern region of Balochistan, targeting what it claimed were terrorist elements linked to the Jaish-al-Adl outfit. This organization, identified as a Sunni militant and Baluchi separatist group, primarily operates in Southeastern Iran. The Pakistani Foreign Office Spokesperson reported the unfortunate loss of two children during the incident, labeling the attack as a violation of international law.

In response, Pakistan, being a nuclear-armed nation, felt obligated to react to the strike due to the blatant infringement upon its territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Two days after the Iranian missile strike, Pakistan executed a retaliatory airstrike in response to the perceived violation of its sovereignty. This operation, codenamed Marg Bar Sarmachar, targeted the Saravan region in Iran. The Pakistani state asserted that it successfully neutralized several Baluch separatists operating within the region.

Nevertheless, Iran did not confine its airstrikes to this specific instance in ‘friendly’ nations. In two days, Iran launched strikes against targets in three allied countries, Syria, Iraq, and Pakistan.

The assault on Syria seems to be a reaction to the casualties resulting from an attack attributed to the Islamic State group (IS) in the Iranian city of Kerman, claiming the lives of at least 84 people. Conversely, in Iraq, Iran’s closest neighbor and ally, the government is incensed by attacks involving approximately 11 ballistic missiles launched by Iran, striking a target in Irbil, within the Iraqi region of Kurdistan. Iran contended that it had targeted a Mossad headquarters, the Israeli intelligence agency. However, Iraqi and Kurdish authorities contend that the strike hit the residence of a well-known businessman, resulting in the tragic deaths of him, his wife, and two children.

Moreover, recently the US has also become part of the crisis. The US conducted major airstrikes across seven locations in Iraq and Syria on Friday, in response to a drone strike by Iran-backed militants on a US military outpost in Jordan, which killed three US service members and wounded more than 40 others.

As the conflict in Gaza persists, leading to substantial civilian casualties, the region faces heightened instability. Western nations have accused Iran of supporting militancy in the area, including backing Hamas. Despite Iran having limited alliances, notably with Pakistan, straining bilateral relations with one of its few allies could prove detrimental.

However, recent diplomatic developments have transformed the historical discord between Pakistan and Iran. The caretaker Foreign Minister of Pakistan engaged in discussions with his Iranian counterpart in Islamabad, signaling a shift in their relationship. Iran’s Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, emphasized the unity of both nations, pointing out that third countries were aiding militant groups along their common border.

The joint statement by Foreign Ministers also highlighted that a “high-level mechanism” was underway to oversee bilateral cooperation. They also added that liaison officers would be stationed in the Turbat and Zahedan regions of Pakistan and Iran respectively to prevent unilateral actions in the future.

Although, this display of cooperation and exchange of pleasantries set a good precedent for future ties, Pakistan and Iran need to address the roots of conflict that could be potentially harmful for the future.

Both sides have vowed to work for collective and border security, these pledges must be followed by concrete actions to secure the common border.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan and Iran have long regarded each other with suspicion over militant attacks. The recent years have seen a rise in attacks on Pakistani and Iranian security forces. Both sides blame each other for turning a blind eye to these threats. Pakistan claims to have shared evidence with Iran about the presence of Baluch separatists in Iranian territory, where they launch cross-border attacks on Pakistani troops.

Iran and Pakistan have a 900km (560 mile) border that poses challenges for both countries to manage independently. In the past, Tehran and Pakistan have been careful in addressing border security issues.

Jaish-al-Adl, the militant group Iran claims to have targeted in Pakistan, is an anti-Iranian group that seeks independence for Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan region and Pakistan’s Southwestern Balochistan provinces. These goals make it a common target for both governments.

While the recent crisis has been successfully diffused, there’s no assurance that future incidents will witness similarly rational actions. Pakistan, situated between two antagonistic neighbors in the East and Northwest – namely India and Afghanistan, faces a precarious geopolitical landscape. Any addition to its list of hostile neighbors would only exacerbate the challenges.

India has persistently accused Pakistan of harboring regional terrorism, attributing cross-border hostilities to it. Countering this narrative becomes an arduous task for Pakistan, especially when reinforced by Iran’s support.

Additionally, Pakistan initially welcomed the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, but the ensuing challenges from the region surpassed its capacity to manage. This area is rife with non-state actors, sharing motivations to support each other along sectarian lines, thus contributing significantly to the prevailing unrest.

Pakistan needs to upgrade its level of engagement with Iran. To carry out coordinated operations inside their respective boundaries, Pakistan must actively engage China and urge Iran to share intelligence to target the interests of each other but with proportionality and avoid unilateral actions. China’s involvement in the region has increased in recent years with many Middle-Eastern and South-Asian countries such as Pakistan tilting towards China to challenge US hegemony.

The landmark event of the Saudi-Iran rapprochement in March 2023 which was brokered by China emphasizes its increasing interest in the region. Involving China would ensure compliance by Iran and Pakistan as they are allies of China and would not risk deteriorating relations with an ally in an otherwise adversarial region.

It is also essential for Pakistan to internationally emphasize that Kulbhushan Yadav was captured from Iranian territory, a point to be raised at the highest levels of discussion with the Iranian regime.

In conclusion, while recent diplomatic efforts between Pakistan and Iran signal a positive shift, sustained cooperation is crucial to address mutual security concerns and prevent further escalations along their shared border. Both nations must prioritize dialogue, concrete actions, and regional partnerships to ensure long-term stability and security.

**The opinions in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The Diplomatic Insight. The organization does not endorse or assume responsibility for the content.

Samiha Yousaf
Samiha Yousafhttps://thediplomaticinsight.com/
Samiha Yousaf is a dedicated undergraduate student at Bahria University, where she is pursuing her passion for international relations and diplomacy. With a keen interest in the Middle East and Eurasia, she has emerged as a promising contributor and writer for Diplomatic Insight. Samiha's inquisitive nature and commitment to understanding complex geopolitical issues make her a valuable voice in the field.

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