“This morning Pakistan undertook a series of highly coordinated and specifically targeted precision military strikes against terrorist hideouts in Sistan-o-Baluchistan province of Iran,” a foreign ministry statement said, adding that a “number of terrorists were killed during the Intelligence-based operation – codenamed ‘Marg Bar Sarmachar’.”
The Foreign Office statement said :”Over the last several years, in our engagements with Iran, Pakistan has consistently shared its serious concerns about the safe havens and sanctuaries enjoyed by Pakistani origin terrorists calling themselves ‘Sarmachars’ on the ungoverned spaces inside Iran. Pakistan also shared multiple dossiers with concrete evidence of the presence and activities of these terrorists. However, because of lack of action on our serious concerns, these so-called Sarmachars continued to spill the blood of innocent Pakistanis with impunity.” Pakistan responded to Iran in kind not just in deed, but also in word, using the same language in its official statement.
“This morning’s action was taken in light of credible intelligence of impending large scale terrorist activities by these so called Sarmachars,” the Foreign Office statement said, adding: ‘This action is a manifestation of Pakistan’s unflinching resolve to protect and defend its national security against all threats. The successful execution of this highly complex operation is also a testimony to the professionalism of the Pakistan Armed Forces. Pakistan will continue to take all necessary steps to preserve the safety and security of its people which is sacrosanct, inviolable and sacred.”
A day earlier, on January 15, Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards missiles strikes hit an “Israeli spy centre” in Iraq and targeted Islamic State militants in Syria. Iraq vehemently rejected the Iranian claim and also recalled its ambassador from Tehran.
Pakistan on Wednesday recalled its ambassador from Iran and expelled Tehran’s envoy in a swift move to the Iranian missile strikes. It was for the first time that Pakistan had to recall its envoy from Iran, although the two countries have had troubled relations in the past. Iranian Hossein Amir Abdollahian called Pakistan’s caretaker foreign minister Jalil Abbas jillani in an effort to de-escalate the situation but to no avail. Abdollahian insisted that Iran had targeted terrorists on Pakistani soil and that it “respected the sovereignty” of Pakistan.
Echoing the words of the Iranian foreign minister, the foreign office statement said: “Pakistan fully respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Islamic Republic of Iran. 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. As a responsible member of the international community, Pakistan upholds the principles and purposes of the UN Charter including territorial integrity and sovereignty of member states. Guided by these principles, and in exercise of our legitimate rights within international law, Pakistan will never allow its sovereignty and territorial integrity to be challenged, under any pretext or circumstances. Iran is a brotherly country and the people of Pakistan have great respect and affection for the Iranian people. We have always emphasized dialogue and cooperation in confronting common challenges including the menace of terrorism and will continue to endevaour to find joint solutions.”
Many analysts described the situation as extremely dangerous and could drag Pakistan into the Middle East conflict. Fears of a full-blown war were being expressed on social media platform X (formerly Twitter) with some accounts claiming Iran preparing for retaliatory strikes.
#BreakinNews:- 🇵🇰 🇮🇷
🚨:- Several OSINT Sources reporting that in the southeast of #Iran, locals have observed the deployment of #IRGC‘s ballistic missiles, possibly indicating preparation for a retaliatory strike against #Pakistan.
🔺The Pakistani airstrikes targeted the… pic.twitter.com/NDGeEcSbKD
— Eagle Eye (@zarrar_11PK) January 18, 2024
While the US condemned the Iranian attack on Pakistan, China in its reaction urged both Tehran and Islamabad to exercise “restraint”. Several Twitter users called for de-escalation and urged Beijing to play its role because of its close relations with the two Muslim countries.
Pakistan’s response to Iran comes at a time when its military is extremely unpopular in Pakistan because of its alleged role in the unprecedented state crackdown on Pakistan Tehrik e Insaf and its leader Imran Khan. “Don’t overlook the political boost Pakistan’s military could get from this retaliation against Iran,” wrote Michael Kugelman, South Asia Institute Director at the Wilson Center, a Washington DC-based think tank.
Don’t overlook the political boost Pakistan’s military could get from this retaliation against Iran. Its crackdown on Imran Khan and his party has stoked public anger against the Army. The retaliatory strike could produce a rally-around-the-flag effect, even if a momentary one.
— Michael Kugelman (@MichaelKugelman) January 18, 2024