Decoding Iran’s Strike and Pakistan’s Counter Strike in the Geopolitical Context

Iran’s surprising missile strike in Panjgur, Balochistan, caught the entire nation off guard, especially at a time when Pakistanis harbored overwhelmingly positive sentiments towards Iran. The lack of comprehension regarding the rationale behind this outrageous act is exacerbated by the fact that both countries are victims of terrorism, with terrorists exploiting the vast and rugged border terrain between them. Adding to the perplexity, the attack coincided with joint naval exercises between the Pakistani and Iranian navies, and a meeting between the Pakistani Caretaker Prime Minister and the Iranian Foreign Minister at Davos during the World Economic Forum. This context renders the attack even more absurd and challenging for Pakistanis to make sense of.

Despite the ongoing collaborations, including joint mechanisms at multiple levels to address cross-border terrorism, Iran chose to bypass these arrangements and opted for a unilateral aggressive response. This decision resulted in the tragic death of two children and injuries to three other individuals. The stark contrast between diplomatic engagements and military provocations further underscores the need for a coherent approach to regional stability and cooperation between Iran and Pakistan.

 

Iran’s Strategic Blunder

Iran’s recent military move stands out as a significant strategic blunder, failing to achieve even tactical objectives, let alone any broader strategic goals. The unfortunate casualties, including innocent children and an injured woman, point to a botched operation marked by questionable intelligence, raising serious doubts about the effectiveness of Iran’s intelligence apparatus. This assessment gains credibility when examining Iran’s actions in Syria and Iraq, where reports indicate that innocent civilians were targeted under the pretext of being associated with Israel’s proxies.

The decision to test the waters with Pakistan, perhaps influenced by years of such offensive acts in Syria and Iraq, appears ill-conceived. Considering Pakistan’s domestic political instability, Iran might have considered it as an ideal time for such action but, evidently, it underestimated the gravity of its actions. A rational assessment, rooted in one of the basic principles of International Relations to jealously guard state sovereignty, would have anticipated Pakistan’s strong response. The aftermath has left Iran not only with international disgrace but also a rapid loss of significant soft power in Pakistan, underscoring the consequences of impulsive military actions in delicate regional dynamics.

A pivotal aspect of the recent offensive by Iran is the significant precedent it establishes. This marks the first instance since the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s that a foreign nation has conducted an overt military operation within Iranian borders. Over the decades, Iran has perfected the strategy of engaging in sub-conventional warfare through its proxies in the Middle East. This has presented a dilemma for countries facing such warfare, as determining an appropriate response has proven challenging.

In response to Iran’s strikes, Pakistan has effectively carried out its own military operations within Iranian territory. This not only reflects a tangible reaction but also opens a gateway for other countries in the region and potentially beyond. The externalities of this action could potentially inflict more harm on Iran than any benefits gained from the initial strikes inside Pakistan. The established precedent sets a new dynamic in the region, prompting a reconsideration of responses to sub-conventional warfare, thereby complicating Iran’s strategic calculations.

 

Unsettling record for a latent nuclear state

Iran’s trajectory as a potential nuclear state has been marred by persistent allegations of fostering proxies in the Middle East, contributing significantly to regional instability. The international community has responded with sanctions and reprimands, highlighting Iran’s role in exacerbating chaos in the Middle East through armed militias under its influence. Now, in a concerning turn of events, Iran finds itself in direct confrontation with one of its nuclear-armed neighbors, a move seemingly undertaken without careful consideration. This stark reality raises serious doubts about Iran’s standing as a responsible latent nuclear state, particularly as it may wish to inch closer to nuclear weapon status in the future.

The implications of this irrational move extend beyond the immediate conflict, casting a shadow over Iran’s diplomatic relations with neighboring countries. The fallout may prompt not only Pakistan but also other nations in Iran’s vicinity to reassess their frameworks of engagement with the country. The repercussions of this aggressive act have set Iran on a challenging path, requiring extensive efforts and time if it aims to rebuild and restore positive relations with its regional counterparts. The incident serves as a stark reminder of the delicate balance a potential nuclear state must maintain in international relations, with each action carrying far-reaching consequences.

 

Safeguarding Sovereignty and Sending a Clear Message

In the aftermath of Iran’s unprovoked attack, Pakistan’s decisive kinetic response reflects a fundamental principle in modern international relations—each state staunchly guards its sovereignty. The breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty demanded a robust reaction, showcasing not only the country’s capacity but also its unwavering will to protect its territorial integrity.

Beyond the immediate necessity of defending sovereignty, Pakistan’s response carries strategic implications. A failure to react could have set a detrimental precedent, particularly for neighboring countries like India, known for such provocations, especially in proximity to elections, as observed throughout the recent history of the Modi-led BJP government. The strikes within Iran send an unambiguous signal to any nation harboring ill intentions against Pakistan, emphasizing that such provocations will be met with resolute force.

An interesting dimension arises in the context of India’s response. Despite attempting to distance itself by terming the situation as “a matter between Iran and Pakistan,” the Ministry of External Affairs subtly acknowledged understanding the actions taken in self-defense. This revelation gains significance when viewed against the backdrop of Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar’s visit to Iran just a day before Iran’s attack on Pakistan. The implicit suggestion of India’s nod to these actions should prompt Iran to reconsider the incorporation of Indian influence in its calculations regarding Pakistan-Iran relations. This nuanced geopolitical dance raises questions about the evolving dynamics in the region and the potential implications for broader alliances and alignments.

Pakistan, in a strategic move, has effectively recalibrated the situation by launching a counterstrike within Iran. This calculated response takes into account the vast disparities in resources and capabilities between the two nations, emphasizing that Iran lacks the capacity to escalate the conflict further. Given this, it is prudent to consider this matter as largely concluded.

The sense prevailed

After the retaliatory strikes in Iran, Pakistan demonstrated responsible action by promptly restoring diplomatic ties, a move that was met with positive reception from the Iranian side. This decision reflected the prudent stance of both nations, considering the irrational nature of hostilities within Iran-Pakistan relations. Recognizing the potential exploitation of the situation by various state and non-state actors, both governments acted wisely.

Subsequent to the announcement, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, arrived in Islamabad on January 29th to engage in extensive discussions with his Pakistani counterpart, Jalil Abbas Jilani. These talks were deemed necessary following the recent upheaval. Tehran and Islamabad are actively working to de-escalate tensions which is required for a long-term solution to the mutual cause of concern between both neighbourly countries.

Way forward

Both Iran and Pakistan share the common menace of terrorism, making any unilateral act counterproductive in the fight against this shared threat. Moving forward, a comprehensive approach is imperative, necessitating joint efforts to secure their borders. This involves not only a surge in troops but also enhanced surveillance measures on both sides to prevent the exploitation of rugged terrain by non-state actors against either country.

The focus should shift from a reactive stance to proactive measures that foster regional stability. Collaborative border security initiatives can not only mitigate the risk of terrorist infiltrations but also serve as a foundation for building trust and cooperation between Iran and Pakistan. In an era where non-state actors pose a significant challenge, joint efforts become indispensable to safeguard the interests and security of both nations. This nuanced approach goes beyond military actions, delving into long-term strategies that strengthen the resilience of the region against common adversaries.

[Pakistan Myanmar Locator map, by Hogweard, via Wikimedia Commons]

Akash Shah works as a Research Officer at Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad. His work primarily focuses on developments and militarization in outer space. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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