Pakistan announced Wednesday it was recalling its ambassador to Iran and suspending all bilateral engagements with the country to protest an overnight “unprovoked” deadly cross-border airstrike by Iranian security forces.
The unprecedented move by Islamabad came after Tehran claimed “missile and drone strikes” by the paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on Tuesday night destroyed alleged bases of an anti-Iran militant group, Jaish al-Adl or the Army of Justice, in the Pakistani border province of Baluchistan.
“Pakistan reserves the right to respond to this illegal act. The responsibility for the consequences will lie squarely with Iran,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch warned in a nationally televised statement Wednesday.
She said the bombings killed two “innocent children” and injured several other Pakistani civilians. Baloch added that Islamabad had conveyed to the government in Tehran that the strikes were a “blatant breach” of Pakistan’s sovereignty and a violation of international law.
“We have also informed them that Pakistan has decided to recall its ambassador from Iran and that the Iranian ambassador to Pakistan who is currently visiting Iran may not return for the time being,” Baloch said. She added that Islamabad had also suspended “all high-level visits which were ongoing or were planned between Pakistan and Iran in the coming days.”
Iranian Foreign Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, while speaking Wednesday on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, defended the overnight attack.
“None of the nationals of the friendly and brotherly country of Pakistan were targeted by Iranian missiles and drones,” he claimed. They hit “Iranian terrorists on the soil of Pakistan,” Amir-Abdollahian added.
The cross-border raid came after Tehran also struck targets in Iraq and Syria against what it called “anti-Iranian terrorist groups.”
The attack against suspected terrorist targets in Pakistan came hours after Pakistani caretaker prime minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar met with Amir-Abdollahian on the sidelines of the forum in Davos.
The strikes also occurred as Iranian and Pakistani navies were conducting a joint naval training exercise on Tuesday in the Strait of Hormuz and the northern tip of the Persian Gulf to enhance cooperation and forge stronger relations, according to officials in both countries.
Pakistani opposition and hardline groups criticized what they called a muted response by Islamabad to the aggression by Tehran, demanding a military response to it. Others, such as veteran Senator Mushahid Hussain, stressed the need for nuclear-armed Pakistan to show restraint.
“Pakistan’s response is both mature and measured, which is what the situation demands,” said Hussain, who heads the defense affairs committee of the upper house of parliament. “However, the Iranian government must rein in its trigger-happy ‘Deep State,’ the Revolutionary Guards, whose actions are destabilizing the region and damaging Pakistan-Iran relations,” he said.
China urged both countries Wednesday to exercise restraint and stressed that all countries’ sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity should be respected.
“Iran and Pakistan are close neighbors and major Islamic countries. We call on the two sides to exercise restraint, avoid actions that escalate the tension, and jointly keep the region peaceful and stable,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told a news conference in Beijing.
Iran and Pakistan share a roughly 900-kilometer-long border, separating the turbulent southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan province and Pakistan’s insurgency-hit Baluchistan.
Islamabad and Tehran routinely accuse each other of not doing enough to prevent anti-state armed groups from sheltering on their respective territories and plotting cross-border terrorist attacks against security forces on both sides.
Iran has long pressed Pakistan to crack down on alleged Jaish al-Adl bases in Baluchistan. The militant group from the Iranian Sunni Muslim minority claims to be fighting for greater rights for the community in the predominately Shiite Muslim country.
Last month, a Jaish al-Adl claimed responsibility for killing around a dozen Iranian police forces in a raid near the Pakistani border, prompting Tehran to demand Islamabad move against the group’s hideouts.
The Iranian foreign minister said Wednesday that the previous day’s attack inside Pakistan was a response to the December raid by Jaish al-Adl on the police forces in the Iranian city of Rask in Sistan-Baluchistan.
Amir-Abdollahian said Iran respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan but would not “allow the country’s national security to be compromised or played with.”
For its part, Islamabad alleges that anti-Pakistan ethnic Baluch insurgent groups have established bases on the Iranian side of the border and direct deadly attacks on Pakistani security forces as well as civilians in impoverished, natural resources-rich Baluchistan.
(Source: VOA News)