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18 Jan 2024

Pakistan strikes inside Iran against militant targets, stokes regional tension: Reuters

Pakistan strikes inside Iran against militant targets, stokes regional tension: Reuters
Screenshot from video appearing to show aftermath of missile strike by Pakistan on Iranian territory. (via Twitter)
Originally posted on Reuters -By Asif Shahzad and Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam

Pakistan conducted strikes inside Iran on Thursday, targeting separatist Baloch militants, the Pakistani foreign ministry said, two days after Tehran said it had attacked the bases of another group within Pakistani territory.

Iranian media said several missiles hit a village in the Sistan-Baluchestan province that borders Pakistan, killing at least nine people. Earlier reports said three women and four children were killed, all non-Iranians.

The neighbours have had rocky ties in the past, but the strikes are the highest-profile cross-border intrusions in recent years and come amid growing worries about instability in the Middle East since the war between Israel and Hamas started on Oct. 7.

"A number of terrorists were killed during the intelligence-based operation," Pakistan's foreign ministry said, describing it as a "series of highly coordinated and specifically targeted precision military strikes against terrorist hideouts".

"Pakistan fully respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Islamic Republic of Iran," the ministry added in its statement.

"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."

A senior Pakistani security official told Reuters the military was on "extremely" high alert and would meet any "misadventure" from the Iranian side forcefully.

Iran strongly condemns the strikes, its foreign ministry spokesperson, Nasser Kanaani, said, adding that Pakistan's charge d'affaires, its most senior diplomat in Tehran, had been summoned to give an explanation.

In Islamabad, a foreign ministry spokesperson said Pakistan's caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-haq Kakar would cut short a visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos and return home.

Pakistan's stocks and international bonds fell after the strikes. The Karachi stock index fell as much as 0.85% while the 2026 bond dropped 1.2 cents to trade at 71.125 cents in the dollar at 0750 GMT, data from Tradeweb showed .

A Pakistani intelligence source told Reuters the strikes were carried out by military aircraft.

"Our forces have conducted strikes to target Baloch militants inside Iran," said the official in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.

"The targeted militants belong to BLF," he added, referring to the Baloch Liberation Front, which seeks independence for Pakistan's Balochistan province.

Iran said on Tuesday it had hit Israel-linked militant bases inside Pakistan. Both targeted groups are ethnically Baloch, but it was not clear if they co-operate.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan said civilians were hit and two children killed, warning of consequences for which Tehran would be responsible.

Islamabad recalled its ambassador from Iran on Wednesday in protest against what it called a "blatant breach" of its sovereignty.


Iran had been flexing its muscles in the region, even before its cross-border incursion into Pakistan.

It launched strikes on Syria against what Tehran said were Islamic State sites and Iraq, where it said it had struck an Israeli espionage centre. Baghdad recalled its ambassador from Tehran.

The neighbours had appeared to be improving ties, with Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and Pakistan's Kakar meeting at Davos this week, before the Iranian strikes on Pakistan.

Pakistan's comments after its retaliatory strikes signal a desire to keep the row contained, but analysts warned it could get out of hand.

"Iran's motivation for attacking Pakistan remains opaque but in light of broader Iranian behaviour in the region it can escalate," Asfandyr Mir, a senior expert on South Asia security at the U.S. Institute of Peace, told Reuters.

"What will cause anxiety in Tehran is that Pakistan has crossed a line by hitting inside Iranian territory, a threshold that even the U.S. and Israel have been careful to not breach."

Khwaja Asif, Pakistan's defence minister until August, said the action was retaliatory.

"A measured response has been given and it was important," he told Geo TV. "There should be ongoing efforts on the side that this doesn't escalate."

Both targeted militant groups operate in an area that includes Pakistan's southwestern province of Balochistan and Iran's southeastern Sistan-Baluchestan province. Both are restive, mineral-rich and largely underdeveloped.

The BLF, which Islamabad targeted inside Iran, is waging an armed insurgency against the Pakistani state.

This includes hitting Chinese citizens and investments in Balochistan, which is Pakistan's largest province by land mass, but its least populated and developed. Large portions are lawless.

The Jaish al Adl (JAA), which Iran targeted, is also an ethnic militant group, but with Sunni Islamist leanings that primarily Shi'ite Iran sees as a threat.

The group has carried out attacks in Iran against its powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps.

In its previous incarnation as Jundallah, the group had pledged allegiance to Iraq- and Syria-based jihadist group Islamic State.

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