Pakistan recalls its ambassador to Iran over airstrikes by Tehran that killed 2 people

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan recalled its ambassador to Tehran on Wednesday, a day after Iran conducted airstrikes inside Pakistan that it claimed targeted bases for a militant Sunni separatist group.

Islamabad denounced the attack as a “blatant violation” of its airspace and said it killed two children.

Tuesday's airstrikes in Pakistan's restive southwestern Baluchistan province imperiled diplomatic relations between the two neighbors, but both sides appeared wary of provoking the other. Iran and nuclear-armed Pakistan have long regarded each other with suspicion over militant attacks.

The attack raised the threat of violence spreading in a Middle East unsettled by Israel's war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Iran also staged airstrikes late Monday in Iraq and Syria over an Islamic State-claimed suicide bombing that killed over 90 people earlier this month. Iraq recalled its ambassador from Iran for consultations.

Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, the spokesperson for Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry, announced that Islamabad was recalling its ambassador to Iran over the strikes.

“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,” she said in a televised address.

Baloch added that Pakistan asked the Iranian ambassador, who was visiting Tehran, not to return.

Iran did not immediately acknowledge Pakistan's decision.

Iranian state media reports, which were later withdrawn without explanation, said the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard targeted bases in Pakistan belonging to the militant group Jaish al-Adl , or the “Army of Justice.”

Iran’s defense minister also said Wednesday that Iran would respond to any threats against itself, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Without naming any country, Gen. Mohammad Reza Ashtiani said: “We will show reaction to threat against the Islamic Republic of Iran from any region. The reaction will be corresponding, harsh and strong.”

Jaish al-Adl, which seeks an independent Baluchistan for ethnic Baluch areas in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, acknowledged the assault in a statement shared online.

Six bomb-carrying drones and rockets struck homes that the militants claim housed children and wives of their fighters. Jaish al-Adl said the attack killed two children and wounded two women and a teenage girl.

Videos shared by the Baluch activist group HalVash, purportedly from the site, showed a burning building and two charred, small corpses.

A Pakistani intelligence report said the two children killed were a 6-year-old girl and an 11-month-old boy. Three women were injured, aged between 28 and 35, it said. The report also said three or four drones were launched from the Iranian side, hitting a mosque and other buildings, including a house.

Iran has fought in border areas against militants, but the air attack on Pakistan is unprecedented.

A senior Pakistani security official, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to reporters, said Iran had shared no information prior to the strike. He said that Pakistan reserved the right to respond at a time and place of its choosing and that any strike would be measured and in line with public expectations.

However, there were signs Pakistan was trying to contain anger over the attack. The country's typically outspoken and nationalistic media reported on the airstrikes with unusual restraint Wednesday. Pakistan is three weeks away from an election , and politicians are focused on campaigning.

Iranian state media did not address the strikes, instead discussing a joint naval drill held by Pakistan and the Iranian navy in the Persian Gulf on Tuesday. Pakistani officials acknowledged the drill but said it came earlier than Iran's attack.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian acknowledged Tehran carried out the attack in Pakistan while speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He defended the action while repeatedly being told by the interviewer that Pakistan had condemned the attack.

"Regarding Pakistan, none of the nationals of our neighbor, brother and friend Pakistan were the target of Iran’s drones and missiles,” Amirabdollahian said. “We have discussed them with Pakistan’s high-ranking military, security and political officials. Our response is against Iranian terrorists inside Pakistani soil.”

Pakistani Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani said he received a call later from Amirabdollahian.

Jilani told the Iranian the attack seriously damaged relations and could undermine regional peace and stability, according to a statement from the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad. “No country in the region should tread this perilous path,” Jilani said in the call.

Pakistani defense analyst Syed Muhammad Ali said that the government might take some measures in response to the attacks, but that it would weigh any military retaliation carefully. He noted Pakistan's air defense and missile systems are primarily deployed along its eastern border to respond to potential threats from India.

Jaish al-Adl was founded in 2012, and Iranian officials believe it largely operates in Pakistan. The group has claimed bombings and kidnapped members of Iran's border police in the past. In December, suspected Jaish al-Adl members killed 11 people and wounded eight others in a nighttime attack on a police station in southeastern Iran. Another recent attack killed a police officer in the area.

In 2019, Jaish al-Adl claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing targeting a bus that killed 27 members of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

Iran has suspected that Sunni-majority Pakistan is hosting insurgents, possibly at the behest of its regional arch-rival Saudi Arabia. However, Iran and Saudi Arabia reached a Chinese-mediated detente last March, easing tensions. Pakistan, meanwhile, has blamed Iran for militant attacks targeting its security forces.

It remained unclear why Iran launched the attack now, particularly as its foreign minister met with Pakistan's caretaker prime minister, Anwar ul-haq Kakar, the same day at the World Economic Forum.

Kakar had yet to comment publicly on the attacks but he is expected to preside over a meeting of top military generals and government officials upon his return from Davos to consider the country's response to the attacks.

His predecessor, Shehbaz Sharif, said he was shocked at the breach of sovereignty. Writing on X, formerly known as Twitter, Sharif said that “sincere dialogue and meaningful cooperation” between the two countries was needed.

The party of imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan has also condemned the Iranian attack.

( Source : AP )
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