ISLAMABAD: Pakistan said on Thursday (Jan 18) it carried out strikes against militant targets in Iran, with Tehran reporting a death toll of seven civilians after staging its own air raid in Pakistan earlier this week.
Nuclear-armed Pakistan and neighbouring Iran are both battling simmering insurgencies along their sparsely populated border regions.
The cross-border attacks add to multiple crises across the Middle East, with Israel waging a war against Hamas in Gaza and Houthi rebels in Yemen attacking commercial vessels in the Red Sea.
“This morning Pakistan undertook a series of highly coordinated and specifically targeted precision military strikes against terrorist hideouts” in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said.
It said the action was taken in light of “credible intelligence of impending large-scale terrorist activities”, adding that “a number of terrorists were killed”.
Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported that at least three women and four children were killed in blasts around the city of Saravan in the country’s southeast.
An “informed official” was quoted as telling state media: “Iran demands an immediate explanation from the Pakistani authorities about this incident”.
Tehran and Islamabad frequently accuse each other of allowing militants to operate from the other’s territory to launch attacks, but it is rare that official forces on either side engage.
“Pakistan fully respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Islamabad’s foreign ministry said.
“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.”
Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar will cut short his visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, “in view of the ongoing developments”, foreign ministry spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said in a press conference in Islamabad.
The attack comes after Iran staged missile and drone attacks on the Jaish al-Adl group late on Tuesday, after Tehran also launched attacks in Iraq and Syria against what it called “anti-Iranian terrorist groups”.
Islamabad said the strikes in its territory killed “two innocent children”.
Formed in 2012, Jaish al-Adl is blacklisted by Iran as a terrorist group and has carried out several attacks on Iranian soil in recent years.
Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said Wednesday that Tehran respected the sovereignty of Pakistan but would not allow his nation’s security “to be compromised or played with”.
Islamabad called the strike an “unprovoked and blatant breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty” and recalled its ambassador to Iran and blocked Tehran’s envoy – currently in Iran – from returning to the country.
China, a close partner of Iran and Pakistan, urged restraint, with foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning on Wednesday saying both should “avoid actions that would lead to an escalation of tension”.
The United States, meanwhile, condemned the Iranian strikes in Pakistan, Iraq and Syria.
State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Tehran had violated the “sovereign borders of three of its neighbours in just the past couple of days”.
Pakistan has not specified where Tuesday’s Iranian strike took place.
But Pakistani media said it was near Panjgur in southwest Balochistan province, where the countries share a border of nearly 1,000km.
The Pakistani military has been waging a decades-long fight against ethnic Baloch separatists in the province, the largest but poorest region of the country.
Hours before the strike, Prime Minister Kakar had met the Iranian foreign minister on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
“This violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty is completely unacceptable and can have serious consequences,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry statement said.