Pakistan’s retaliatory military strike on suspected militant bases in Iran – in response to Iranian attacks in Pakistani territory – can only escalate tensions between the two countries. It will also ring alarm bells elsewhere across an increasingly jittery Middle East but also further afield in India and China. The Chinese have friendly relations with both Pakistan and Iran. India, meanwhile, is always on high alert whenever Pakistan’s military forces flex their muscles. All in all, there is a real danger that more and more countries will be sucked into the volatile and unpredictable vortex of the Middle East conflict.
The Pakistani military action follows Iran’s attacks on the Jaish ul-Adl, a jihadi militant group, in the Balochistan province border area. It is the first time Iran has targeted a group inside Pakistani territory. Both countries accuse each other of allowing militants to operate from each other’s jurisdictions.
A swift response was always on the cards after the Pakistanis signalled their fury with Iran. Pakistan recalled its ambassador from Tehran following the strike. It also instructed Iran’s envoy, who was overseas, not to return. Pakistan’s acting prime minister, Anwaar ul-haq Kakar, rushed home from the World Economic Forum in Davos. He will have been left embarrassed that he actually met the Iranian foreign minister for talks on the sidelines of the Davos summit, just hours before Iran fired missiles and explosive drones into Pakistan.
The diplomatic displeasure of the Pakistanis has now been followed up by the inevitable military response, something Pakistan’s all-powerful army – as well as public opinion – will have demanded. The generals cannot afford to allow the impression to take hold that any country (and in this, its rival and enemy India as much as Iran) can launch missiles into Pakistani territory and not face repercussions.