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Friday, May 24, 2024

Iranian Airstrikes on Pakistan and Shifting Diplomatic Dynamics

GVS managing editor Ms. Najma Minhas sat down to discuss the Iran-Pakistan situation with analyst Dr. Moeed Pirzada.

Iran launched attacks Tuesday in Pakistan targeting what it described as bases for the militant group Jaish al-Adl, potentially further raising regional tensions. Pakistan said the strikes killed two children and wounded three others in an assault it described as an “unprovoked violation” of its airspace. GVS managing editor Ms. Najma Minhas sat down to discuss the situation with analyst Dr. Moeed Pirzada.

GVS: Has there been any significant development in the last 18 hours following the Iranian airstrikes on Pakistan?

Dr. Moeed: In the last 24 hours, there has been a notable shift. Initially, information about Iranian strikes in Balochistan was not covered by Pakistani media but circulated on international platforms. The Pakistani Foreign Office’s initial response was criticized as weak. Within the next 12 hours, there was a hardening of the stance, leading to the withdrawal of the Pakistani ambassador from Tehran and the freezing of meetings.

GVS: What factors contributed to the change in the Pakistani position, considering recent diplomatic engagements and the ongoing joint Navy exercise?

Dr. Moeed: The timeline is crucial here. The caretaker Prime Minister’s meeting with the Iranian foreign minister and the naval exercise were scheduled before the Iranian strikes. It took nearly 24 hours for the Pakistani government to formulate a response. The Iranian Foreign Minister’s interview calling Pakistan a brotherly nation occurred after the strikes, attributing them to external threats from the United States and Mossad.

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GVS: Despite the joint Navy exercise and recent diplomatic interactions, why did Iran choose to carry out these actions against Pakistan?

Dr. Moeed: The events unfolded in a specific sequence. The meeting between the caretaker Prime Minister and the Iranian foreign minister occurred several hours before the Iranian Revolutionary Guard struck in Balochistan. Similarly, the scheduled naval exercise took place on January 16th, the same day as the missile strikes. The Pakistani government took time to respond, with the initial reaction being lukewarm before hardening within the next 12 hours.

GVS: What explanation does the Iranian foreign minister provide for these actions, and how does it relate to Mossad and external threats?

Dr. Moeed: In his interview, the Iranian Foreign Minister emphasized Iran’s excellent brotherly relationship with Iraq and Pakistan, respecting their sovereignty. He attributed the attacks to perceived threats from the United States and Mossad, citing specific incidents in Syria and Iraq. The Iranian government contends that they are under attack from external sources, including Mossad, and points to various incidents as evidence.

GVS: What is the reason behind the Iranian attacks on Syria, Iraq, and Pakistan within the last 48 hours? Is there a common factor?

Dr. Moeed: The attacks in Iraq and Syria are seen as part of Iran’s response to the January 3rd incident. They connect it to countering ISIS and what they perceive as American and Israeli-backed elements. Regarding Pakistan, the Iranian Foreign Minister cited concerns about activities from Pakistani Balochistan, mentioning previous attacks and urging action from Pakistani authorities.

GVS: Can you explain the connection between Iranian attacks and activities in Pakistani Balochistan? Why did Iran take action against Pakistan?

Dr. Moeed: The Iranian Foreign Minister claims they’ve raised concerns about hostile activities from Pakistani Balochistan for months. Alleged attacks in May, July, and December 2023 resulted in loss of life on the Iranian side. Despite communicating details to Pakistani authorities, Iran asserts that no action was taken, leading them to act in their national security interests.

GVS: Is there a specific reason mentioned for Iran targeting Balochistan in Pakistan?

Dr. Moeed: The Iranian Foreign Minister pointed to attacks on Iranian officials in Balochistan as the primary cause. They targeted Iranian people seeking refuge in the Pakistani side. Iran claims lack of action from Pakistani authorities, despite communication, compelled them to act based on national security concerns.

GVS: How have Iran and Pakistan historically collaborated to address Balochistan issues, and why did Iran feel compelled to act unilaterally this time?

Dr. Moeed: Traditionally, Iran and Pakistan worked together on Balochistan issues. However, Iran alleges that despite communication and sharing details, no action was taken by Pakistani authorities this time. This perceived lack of response led Iran to take unilateral action based on national security concerns.

GVS: Why didn’t the two countries take action, given their tradition of working together to resolve such issues?

Dr. Moeed: The situation is complex. Balochistan has a population of around 10 to 3 million, but its landmass is 43 to 44% of Pakistani landmass. The area is underdeveloped, with sparse logistics and communication. The control of the territory is limited, and authorities struggle to manage the situation in large cities like Quetta and Gwadar. The lack of effective control could be due to Pakistani incompetence, capacity issues, or collusion. Iranians claim it is Pakistan’s lack of action, suspecting American support. The Gisha Other group, declared a terrorist organization by the U.S., is seen by Iranians as an American proxy.

GVS: What about the neighbors? China has responded, emphasizing the need for the two brotherly nations to resolve the issue. There are discussions about the Indian Foreign Minister’s recent visit to Iran. Any thoughts on the roles these two countries are playing or could play?

Dr. Moeed: China, despite speculations, likely does not want tensions between Pakistan and Iran. Pakistan’s present regime is unpopular, creating internal polarization. Many feel sympathetic towards Iran. Speculations about China influencing Iran to create problems for Pakistan seem unlikely. China sees Pakistan as an important ally with strategic interests. They have investments in Iran and want stability. India, with strategic investments, maintains a robust relationship with Iran. Tensions between Pakistan and Iran may be of interest to Saudis and Americans, but China, prioritizing stability, is less likely to support such developments.

GVS: Given the recent events, do you believe there is an element of necessity for Pakistan to take some action just to show its neighboring countries that they can’t act freely within its borders?

Dr. Moeed: The situations between Pakistan and India, Pakistan and the Taliban, and Pakistan and Iran are distinct. India and Pakistan have a history of conflict, while the dynamics with the Taliban involve non-military capabilities. Tensions with Iran, a traditionally friendly nation, present a different challenge. In 2019, India sought hegemony over Pakistani airspace, with potential support from the U.S. and other countries. Responding to Balakot was crucial to prevent a strategic reset. However, with Iran, a counterstrike would be militarily possible but ultimately pointless. Recent diplomatic engagements suggest hope for a peaceful resolution.

GVS: Considering the social media response and the unprecedented criticism of the army, is the Pakistani army under pressure to take stronger action, not just for international messaging but also due to domestic compulsions?

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Dr. Moeed: Yes, the Pakistani army is under pressure and has likely discussed this issue. However, Iran is not India or the Taliban. A careful approach is needed, as the diplomatic way forward is preferable. Unlike India, Iran’s attack involves missiles and drones, and a tit-for-tat response could lead to a slippery path. Despite domestic pressures, it is unlikely that Pakistan will opt for counterstrikes, as the situation demands a diplomatic resolution.

GVS: How do you explain the contrasting social media response this time compared to the Balakot incident in 2019? Why do you think there is been such a strong and different approach this time around?

Dr. Moeed: The social media response differs due to the polarization of Pakistani politics. In 2019, despite political differences, the country united in the face of the Balakot incident. However, the present government is widely unpopular, even more so than any previous regime. Additionally, Iranians are viewed positively in Pakistan, contributing to a lack of public support for aggressive actions against Iran. The government’s shrill rhetoric doesn’t resonate with the public, making any counterstrike against Iran less likely to garner popular support.

GVS: A journalist suggested that due to the security situation with Iran and terrorism within Pakistan, elections scheduled for February 8th might be delayed. What are your thoughts on this possibility?

Dr. Moeed: While everything is possible in Pakistan, it doesn’t seem likely that the elections will be delayed. The term “election” is debatable, as it is more of a selection process. The present regime has worked to sideline PTI from the process and is likely aiming for specific results. Despite concerns about the regime’s control over the electoral process, postponing the selection seems unlikely, as it would challenge the narrative of legitimacy they seek to establish.

Watch the full discussion on GVS Dialogue: