Nuclear-armed Pakistan on Wednesday warned that Iran will face “serious consequences” for a wanton missile strike on the Balochistan region, which killed several civilians, including children.
The Iranian regime celebrated the attack as its most impressive projection of force to date, comparing the attack to airstrikes conducted by the U.S. and other Western nations against terrorist forces.
“Pakistan strongly condemns the unprovoked violation of its airspace by Iran and the strike inside Pakistani territory which resulted in the death of two innocent children while injuring three girls,” said Wednesday’s statement from Islamabad.
“This violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty is completely unacceptable and can have serious consequences,” the statement said.
Pakistan expelled the Iranian ambassador on Wednesday, recalled its own ambassador to Tehran, and said it “reserves the right to respond” in other ways to Iran’s missile attack.
“The responsibility for the consequences will lie squarely with Iran,” Pakistan said.
A senior Pakistani military official told the Associated Press that Iran’s actions set a “dangerous precedent” that could be “destabilizing” for the entire region.
Iran struck the Balochistan region of Pakistan the day after its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) launched missiles into the Kurdistan region of Iraq and Syria, supposedly targeting secret Israeli intelligence headquarters and militant groups responsible for the devastating suicide bombing in Kerman, Iran, in January.
The regime in Tehran vowed revenge against the perpetrators of the Kerman attack, no matter which country they might be found in. The Islamic State took credit for the bombing, but some Iranian officials accused the United States and Israel of orchestrating it.
Iranian state media claimed on Wednesday the projectiles fired into Pakistan were aimed at bases used by a Balochi militant group called Jaish al-Adl. According to the Iranian reports, the targeted bases were “hit and destroyed by missiles and drones.”
The Baloch are an ethnic minority that dwells on both sides of the Pakistan-Iran border. Jaish al-Adl (“Army of Justice”) is a militant Sunni Muslim group that dates back to 2012. The group wants to form an independent state out of territory carved from Pakistan’s Balochistan region and Iran’s Sistan province, the only Sunni-majority state in Shiite-dominated Iran. Most of Jaish al-Adl’s members are ethnic Balochis.
Jaish al-Adl is outlawed in both Pakistan and Iran and has clashed with security forces in both countries. The Iranians cracked down much harder on the group on their side of the border, where it is known as “Jaysh al-Dhulm,” and have long accused the Pakistanis of not taking the threat seriously enough. Islamabad similarly accuses Iran (and Pakistan’s arch-rival India) of covertly supporting Balochi separatists in Pakistan.
In December, Jaish al-Adl claimed responsibility for attacking an Iranian police station in Sistan province, killing eleven police officers. Iranian state media said Tuesday’s missile attack was meant as punishment for the police station assault, as well as being part of the revenge spree for the Kerman bombing.
Jaish al-Adl representatives said on Tuesday that Iran attacked with six drones and a barrage of rockets, targeting two houses where members of the group lived. Balochistan officials said two girls, aged eight and 12, were killed by Iran’s attack.
Iranian military officials dismissed Pakistan’s objections, celebrating their “precision missile and drone strike” as one of Iran’s deepest direct attacks into foreign territory. Iranian commentators grouped the Balochistan strike with Iran’s missile attacks on Iraqi Kurdistan and Syria as evidence Tehran was a force to be reckoned with and one that has run out of “strategic patience.”
“Seeking to pre-empt criticism that it had violated Pakistan’s sovereignty, Iran said the attacks on terrorists were no different from the kind of assassination operations mounted by the U.S. across the Middle East and Asia,” the UK Guardian reported.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, that American support for Israel was the true “root of insecurity in the region.”
“The U.S. should not, Mr. Biden should not tie their destiny to the fate of Netanyahu,” he said, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“We believe that any action to destabilize the region is rooted in Israel and its genocide in Gaza,” he insisted.
Regional security analysts told the New York Times on Wednesday that Pakistan might be furious over Iran’s violation of its sovereign airspace, but the Pakistanis are not really in a position to do anything about it right now, as they are “reeling from political and economic crises.”
On the other hand, Iran’s attack makes the Pakistani military look passive and ineffectual at the very moment it is attempting to control February’s national elections. The one-time leading candidate in those elections, former Prime Minister Imran Khan, was banned from politics and jailed after picking a fight with the influential military apparatus.
“If Pakistan hits back, it risks getting drawn into Middle East conflicts it has avoided so far. If it does not retaliate, it will appear weak yet again, and that will have consequences for the prestige of its armed forces,” former Pakistani ambassador Hussain Haqqani told the Times.
“The Iranian strike is a very serious development. The fact that there is no elected government complicates the response,” added former Pakistani air marshal Muhammad Asfaque Arain. Pakistan is currently administered by a caretaker government pending the February election.