Pakistan and Iran have engaged in an alarming exchange of attacks across their shared border, marking the beginning of an escalation of hostilities between the two neighbors. The recent attacks, which have left casualties on both sides, have come amid heightened tensions in the Middle East and wider regional conflicts.
The border between Pakistan and Iran stretches for approximately 900 kilometers, with the Pakistani province of Baluchistan on one side and the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchistan on the other. Both nations have long battled militants in the restive Baluch region along the border.
But while the two countries share a common separatist enemy, it is highly unusual for either side to attack militants on each other's soil, CNN writes. Iran started the conflict on Tuesday by carrying out attacks in Pakistan's Balochistan province, which resulted in the tragic deaths of two children and the wounding of several others, according to Pakistani authorities.
Iran claimed that the operation was aimed solely at Iranian terrorists on Pakistani soil and stressed that no Pakistani nationals were injured. Despite this claim, the attack sparked outrage in Pakistan, which condemned it as a flagrant violation of international law and the spirit of bilateral relations.
Iran has justified its actions by pointing to its targets as the Sunni militant group Jaish al-Adl (known as Jaish al-Dhulm in Iran), which operates on both sides of the border. This separatist group has previously claimed responsibility for attacks on Iranian targets and is seeking independence for the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchistan.
In response, Pakistan retaliated two days later with what it called "highly coordinated and specifically targeted precision military strikes" on alleged separatist hideouts in Sistan and Balochistan. The strikes resulted in casualties on the Iranian side, including women and children, raising fears of a larger conflict.
This is not the first conflict
This latest conflict between Pakistan and Iran against separatists along their shared border is not a new phenomenon.
Deadly clashes have occurred regularly over the years, with the latest incident in which Jaish al-Adl militants stormed a police station in Sistan and Baluchistan, killing 11 Iranian policemen. What makes the current situation particularly unusual is the willingness of both countries to shoot targets across the border without prior notice, which is a departure from established norms of communication between neighboring countries.
Of course, it should be emphasized that Iran did it first, and Pakistan "responded" with its attack. The timing of these hostilities is very dangerous, as they occur against the backdrop of Israel's bombing of Gaza and regional conflicts involving Iran's allies and proxies in the Middle East.
Experts suggest that greater regional conflict may have encouraged Iran to take a more proactive stance in dealing with targets beyond its borders. A day before the strike in Pakistan, Iran launched ballistic missiles at Iraq and Syria, claiming it was targeting a spy base of Israeli forces and "anti-Iranian terrorist groups".
Meanwhile, heavy fighting continues between Israel and the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah group across the border with Lebanon; and the US is fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have attacked ships in the Red Sea in retaliation for Israel's attack on Gaza.
Iran, as the dominant player in the Middle East, benefits from regional instability and seeks to fill the power vacuum to advance its goals, including empowering the Palestinians and curbing American influence in the region.
Retired US Army General Wesley Clark highlights Iran's ambition for regional hegemony, arguing that Iran is seeking to consolidate its leadership role in the region. "And when the United States and Israel are there, and Israel is leading this campaign against Hamas, then Iran feels the need to strike back and assert itself," he told CNN.
Movement for freedom and independence
The Baluch people, who live at the crossroads of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, have long maintained a fiercely independent spirit, harboring resentment against rule imposed by Islamabad and Tehran.
The region, rich in natural resources, has witnessed decades of insurgency, fueled primarily by Baloch separatist discontent over the lack of economic prosperity in their communities. Baluchistan, Pakistan's largest province, has seen a series of deadly attacks in recent years, driven by a long-running separatist movement demanding independence and protesting the state's continued exploitation of mineral resources.
Similarly, Iran has struggled with an insurgency by its Kurdish, Arab and Baloch minorities. Jaish al-Adl, a separatist group within Iran, emerged from the remnants of Jundala, becoming a foreign terrorist organization designated by the .
The group targets Iranian security forces, government officials and Shiite civilians, claiming responsibility for attacks that have resulted in significant casualties. The recent escalation between Iran and Pakistan, marked by strikes and counterstrikes, has caused a diplomatic rift.
Pakistan withdrew its ambassador from Iran, and both countries expressed their desire to de-escalate tensions. Despite the strong rhetoric, it remains uncertain whether Iran and Pakistan are ready to engage in full-scale hostilities against a common enemy of separatist groups.
The international community, including the United States, India and China, has called for restraint and diplomatic solutions to prevent further escalation. Pakistan's military strikes on Iranian soil have shown a departure from purely diplomatic responses.
However, statements from both sides indicated a shared desire to avoid a major conflict, emphasizing the need for joint solutions.