Pakistan recalls ambassador from Tehran, blocks Iran's envoy after air strike

AFP , Wednesday 17 Jan 2024

Pakistan recalled its ambassador from Iran Wednesday and blocked Tehran's envoy from returning to Islamabad after an Iranian air strike killed two children in the west of the country a day earlier.

Pakistani spox
Pakistani Foreign Office Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch addressing a press briefing in Islamabad on January 17, 2024. Photo courtesy of Geo News


Iranian news agency Mehrnews said the "missile and drone" attack targeted the Jaish al-Adl group's headquarters in Pakistan, calling it "another decisive step taken by Iran in response to the aggression against the security of our country".

The raid came late on Tuesday after Tehran also launched attacks in Iraq and Syria against what it called "anti-Iranian terrorist groups".

Pakistan denounced the strike, near the nations' shared border.

"Last night's unprovoked and blatant breach of Pakistan's sovereignty by Iran is a violation of international law and the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations," spokeswoman Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said in a statement on Wednesday.

The foreign ministry recalled its ambassador from Tehran and said Iran's envoy -- currently on a visit home -- would not be allowed to return to Islamabad.

Tehran's top diplomat insisted his country's armed forces had targeted "Iranian terrorist group" Jaish al-Adl in Pakistan.

"None of the nationals of the friendly and brotherly country of Pakistan were targeted by Iranian missiles and drones," Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Pakistan's official statement did not specify where the strike took place, but Pakistani media said it was near Panjgur in southwest Balochistan province, where the countries share a sparsely populated border of nearly 1,000 kilometres (620 miles).

Hours before the strike, Pakistan's caretaker Prime Minister Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar had met the Iranian foreign minister on the sidelines of the WEF.

"This violation of Pakistan's sovereignty is completely unacceptable and can have serious consequences," Pakistan's foreign ministry statement said.

It said the strike caused the "death of two innocent children while injuring three girls".

'Common threat'

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.

The Iranian foreign ministry said Amir-Abdollahian spoke with his Pakistani counterpart Jalil Abbas Jilani on Wednesday, stressing that "Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity are of great concern".

Amir-Abdollahian said "Jaish al-Adl is a terrorist group that acts against the common security of the two countries", according to a summary of the conversation released by Tehran.

The United States has also labelled Jaish al-Adl a terrorist organisation, saying the group "primarily targets Iranian security personnel" but also government officials and civilians with assassinations, kidnappings, and suicide bombings.

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.

"It is even more concerning that this illegal act has taken place despite the existence of several channels of communication between Pakistan and Iran," Pakistan's foreign ministry said.

"Pakistan has always said terrorism is a common threat to all countries in the region that requires coordinated action."

Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Washington-based Wilson Center, warned of the seriousness of the strike.

"Iran has staged cross-border operations against Pakistan-based militants in the past, but I don't recall anything on this scale," he said on X, formerly Twitter.

"This plunges Pakistan-Iran ties -- a delicate relationship even in the best of times -- into serious crisis."

China, close partners of Iran and Pakistan, urged restraint, with foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning saying both should "avoid actions that would lead to an escalation of tension".

Earlier, Iran launched missile attacks on "spy headquarters" and "terrorist" targets in Syria, and Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region.

'Act of aggression'

Iraq recalled its ambassador from Iran on Tuesday after the deadly missile strikes killed four people and wounded six others in the Kurdish region, according to the Kurdistan security council.

Iraq also challenged Iran's claim that the strikes targeted Israel's intelligence services in response to recent Israeli assassinations of Iranian and pro-Iranian commanders.

It said it would lodge a complaint with the UN Security Council over the Iranian "attack on its sovereignty".

Teheran defended its missile strikes in Iraq and Syria, saying they were a "targeted operation" and "just punishment" against those who breach Iran's security.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards said they had destroyed the "Zionist regime's spy headquarters in the Kurdistan region of Iraq".

The Iranian strikes come as Israel's war on Gaza, which enters its fourth month, has spiked regional tensions drawing in armed groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen into frequent clashes with Israel and US troops stationed in the region.

Israel's relentless bombardment and ground invasion has killed at least 24,285 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, about 70 percent of them women and children, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

In response, the Houthi in Yemen have repeatedly attacked Israeli-linked vessels to pressure Israel into halting its invasion and allowing unfettered aid access to Gaza.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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