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China urges Iran, Pakistan to show ‘restraint’ after deadly air strike

In World
January 17, 2024

China on Wednesday urged Pakistan and Iran to show “restraint”, after Islamabad said Tehran had carried out an air strike on its territory that killed two children.

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“We call on both sides to exercise restraint, avoid actions that would lead to an escalation of tension and work together to maintain peace and stability,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told a regular briefing.

“We consider both Iran and Pakistan as close neighbours and major Islamic countries,” she said.

Tuesday’s strike in Pakistan‘s restive southwestern Baluchistan province has imperilled diplomatic relations between the two neighbours — Iran and nuclear-armed Pakistan have long regarded each other with suspicion over militant attacks. However, both sides appeared wary of provoking the other.

The attack also threatened to further ignite violence in a Middle East unsettled by Israel’s ongoing war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Iran launched strikes late Monday in Iraq and Syria over an Islamic State group-claimed suicide bombing that killed over 90 people earlier this month. 

In state media reports, which were later withdrawn without explanation, Iran said its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard targeted bases for the militant group Jaish al-Adl, or the “Army of Justice”. The group, which seeks an independent Baluchistan and has spread across 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. 

Read moreIslamic State group claims responsibility for deadly Iran bombings

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

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said it issued a strong protest late Tuesday with Iran’s foreign ministry, and summoned an Iranian diplomat in Islamabad “to convey our strongest condemnation of this blatant violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty”.

“The responsibility for the consequences will lie squarely with Iran,” it said.

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

“The dangerous precedent set by Iran is destabilizing and has reciprocal implications,” the official said.

However, there were signs Pakistan was trying to contain any anger over the strike. The country’s typically outspoken and nationalistic media covered the attack Wednesday with unusual restraint. 

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 another 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 détente last March, easing tensions. Pakistan, meanwhile, has blamed Iran in the past over militant attacks targeting its security forces. 

Iran has fought in border areas against militants, but a missile-and-drone attack on Pakistan is unprecedented. 

It remains unclear why Iran launched the attack now, particularly as its foreign minister had met Pakistan’s caretaker prime minister the same day at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland

After the Islamic State group bombings this month, Iran’s Intelligence Ministry alleged the two bombers involved in the attack had traveled from Afghanistan into Iran through its southeastern border at the Jalg crossing — meaning they had traveled through Baluchistan.

Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, as well as Iran’s neighbouring Sistan and Baluchistan province, have faced a low-level insurgency by Baluch nationalists for more than two decades. They initially wanted a share of provincial resources, but later initiated an insurgency for independence.

Iran’s attack on Pakistan came less than a day after Iranian strikes on northern Iraq that killed several civilians. Iraq recalled its ambassador from Tehran for consultations and summoned Iran’s chargé d’affaires in Baghdad on Tuesday in protest. Iran separately struck Syria as well.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

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