top of page

Iran-Pakistan Conflict: A Pawn in Iran’s Regional Aspirations?

International Affairs Analyst

In recent months, the international stage has become the backdrop for a tense and intricate standoff between Iran and Pakistan, unravelling a complex tapestry of regional dynamics and global security concerns. The escalating tensions, triggered by Iran's targeted strike on the Jaish al Adl militant organization nestled within Pakistani territory, have set in motion a sequence of geopolitical events that demand a meticulous examination of the broader context and potentially far-reaching consequences.

At the heart of this conflict lies Iran's military incursion against Jaish al Adl, an ethnic militant group with Sunni Islamist affiliations. The tension, ignited on January 16 by Iran's precise strike within Pakistani borders, took an alarming turn as Iranian missiles pierced into Pakistani airspace, resulting in civilian casualties. While Iran's longstanding concerns about the presence of Jaish al Adl might provide a surface rationale for the initial strike, subsequent reciprocal military actions by Pakistan have injected additional layers of complexity into an already delicate regional equilibrium. Responding to Iran's attack, Pakistan retaliated two days later by launching airstrikes against alleged militant hideouts inside Iran, marking a significant escalation that heightened tensions in the region. Pakistan stated that its military strikes targeted "terrorist hideouts" in Iran's southeastern Sistan-Baluchestan province. In response, Iran strongly criticized the attack, asserting that it resulted in the tragic deaths of three women, two men, and four non-Iranian children. Despite this condemnation, Iran's foreign ministry expressed its commitment to fostering positive neighbourly relations with Pakistan. Simultaneously, Iran urged Islamabad to take measures to prevent the formation of "bases and armed terrorist groups" on Pakistani soil.

Beyond the immediate military exchanges, the repercussions of the Iran-Pakistan standoff have rippled into Pakistan's financial markets. The discernible impact on stocks and bonds highlighted the broader economic implications of geopolitical tensions, especially as Pakistan found its way to the crucial national elections. International bonds experienced significant declines, with some issues falling by as much as 1.3 cents in early trade. Shorter-dated bonds exhibited a 0.4-cent decrease, while longer-dated issues managed marginal gains after initial losses, according to Reuters emphasising the economic fallout amid geopolitical uncertainty, adding financial strain to an already complex scenario.

Interestingly, Iran's actions can be analysed against the backdrop of Israel's war on Gaza, where the U.S. and its allies confronted the "Axis of Resistance”. This coalition, consisting of predominantly Shia militant organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Houthis, and various Iraqi and Syrian militias, underscores Iran's strategic approach to exert influence, shape regional developments, and signal and deter actors ranging from the U.S. and Israel to Sunni militias and Arab countries.

Iran's strategic alignment, evidenced by concurrent military actions in Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan, underscores a deliberate and coordinated approach to regional engagements. One day before launching an attack in Pakistan's Balochistan, Iran unleashed over twenty missiles into northern Iraq and Syria. Iran asserted that its target was the Islamic State and Mossad, the Israeli spy organization, alleging their involvement in the Kerman attacks that resulted in the deaths of approximately 84 Iranians in January. According to Iranian reasoning, these missile strikes were aimed at groups opposing Iran that received support from rival regimes. Additionally, there appears to be a domestic motive, with Iran aiming to assure its citizens that acts of violence against the country will face consequences.

Therefore, Iran's attack on Pakistan cannot be viewed in isolation as a sudden or random occurrence. Rather, it should be seen as part of a coordinated strategy employed by Iran, which also targeted Syria and Iraq. These actions collectively indicate a deliberate and calculated approach, suggesting a broader regional agenda or set of objectives. If we combined look at the Irani attacks on Iraq, Syria and Pakistan, an interesting phenomenon unfolds. Iraq, historically a staunch ally of Tehran and accustomed to Iranian operations against militants in its Kurdish autonomous region, responded resolutely to Tehran's recent actions. Despite the longstanding alliance, Iraq chose not to remain silent this time. Following suit with Pakistan, Iraq recalled its ambassador and lodged a formal protest with the United Nations Security Council, emphasising Tehran's violation of its territorial integrity.

The robust reactions from Pakistan and Iraq are bound to prompt Tehran to reassess its strategies. Given the ongoing efforts by the United States to isolate Iran diplomatically and economically, Tehran cannot afford to risk its friendly relations with neighbouring Iraq and Pakistan. This is particularly crucial given that Islamabad stands as Iran's sole neighbour possessing nuclear capabilities. Thus, Tehran finds itself in a delicate diplomatic balancing act, where maintaining regional alliances while navigating international pressure is imperative. By attacking multiple countries in the region, Iran demonstrates a strategic mindset aimed at asserting its influence or achieving specific goals. The coordinated nature of these attacks implies careful planning and synchronization of efforts across different theatres of operation. Furthermore, this coordinated strategy highlights Iran's willingness to assert its power and influence beyond its borders, potentially to shape regional dynamics or address perceived threats or challenges to its interests.

Adding to the complexity, Pakistan, amidst this regional turmoil, serves as a strategic ally in proximity to the USA against Iran. This strategic alliance not only influences regional dynamics but also reverberates in global power structures. The delicate balancing act that Pakistan must navigate between its alliance with the U.S. and its regional proximity to Iran further complicates the geopolitical chessboard.  Furthermore, considering Pakistan's geographical position with Afghanistan on the west and India on the east, the potential opening of a conflict on a third border with Iran raises concerns. Islamabad has been wary of getting entangled in additional conflict, especially considering its current financial crisis. The prospect of a third front amid economic challenges adds another layer of caution to Pakistan's stance.

While Iran and Pakistan share motivations for engaging in reciprocal military actions due to bilateral, cross-border tensions, distinctions arise in their tiers of motivation. Pakistan emphasises territorial sovereignty, responding primarily to immediate concerns. In contrast, Iran's strikes serve not only as a demonstration of military capabilities but also as a manifestation of broader regional ambitions. Tehran appears willing to engage militarily against various actors in the wider geopolitical landscape, showcasing a multifaceted approach to regional influence beyond immediate bilateral concerns.

Despite the recent attack, the mentioned factors may dissuade both nations from further escalation. Firstly, a conventional breach of Iranian territory by Pakistan sets an unfavourable precedent for the Iranian government. Iran has successfully deterred the United States and Israel from encroaching on its territory, and a situation where Pakistan regularly violates Iran's sovereignty could undermine Iran's ability to deter other potential adversaries. The attacks and the diplomatic manoeuvre followed by both countries suggest that neither wants an escalation. The meeting of the foreign ministers after the attack suggests that they intend to solve the matter amicably. 

Secondly, Iran is currently facing multiple challenges, and engaging in a prolonged conflict with Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation with a more formidable military, could exacerbate the strategic pressures on Iran. Additionally, the indication that Pakistan is prepared to escalate tensions raises concerns, especially when considering Iran's potential limitations in terms of military resources. Thirdly, a significant factor to consider is the political volatility unfolding in an increasingly unstable Pakistan. Given Pakistan's precarious political and financial situation, it cannot afford to strain its relationship with any of its neighbours, either politically or financially. Therefore, despite Iran's breach of the border, Pakistan opted not to escalate the situation further.

The way the strikes have unfolded has delivered a clear message to Tehran: it must exercise caution to avoid antagonising its neighbours and prioritise the maintenance of amicable relations. The American strategy to isolate Iran has already impacted Tehran's diplomatic standing, emphasising the significance of Tehran's diplomatic relationships. With its own set of challenges, Pakistan also aims for a similar approach. The recent development of the gas pipeline serves as evidence of Pakistan's commitment to fostering positive relations with its neighbours.

Despite recent tensions, the completion of Phase 1 of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline represents a significant milestone achieved through joint efforts by both nations, potentially signalling a diplomatic avenue to address rising tensions amicably. Despite facing initial resistance due to international sanctions, Pakistan has successfully concluded the first phase of the pipeline's construction. The Peace Pipeline as it is called, is a 781-kilometer pipeline, slated to stretch from the Iranian border to Pakistan's coastal city of Gwadar, is expected to have a capacity ranging from 750 million to one billion cubic feet per day.

The increasing need for natural gas underscores the strategic importance of this pipeline development for Tehran and Islamabad. Access to the pipeline would not only alleviate nations’ domestic energy shortages but also foster economic development and stability within the country. Moreover, the completion of Phase 1 of the pipeline reflects a mutual commitment by both Iran and Pakistan to strengthen bilateral relations and enhance regional cooperation, despite external pressures and geopolitical complexities. By overcoming obstacles and pushing forward with the pipeline project, both nations demonstrate a willingness to prioritise their energy needs and forge mutually beneficial partnerships, which could potentially contribute to fostering stability and prosperity in the region, especially Baluchistan which remains underdeveloped on either side of the borders.

In conclusion, while the recent exchanges of attacks between Iran and Pakistan initially raised concerns about the potential escalation of Middle Eastern conflict, their subsequent diplomatic actions have brought a sense of relief. Despite the intricate factors at play, the recent advancements in the pipeline project offer a beacon of hope for Peace (pun intended). Although the crisis remains unresolved, the current state of affairs suggests a calming of tensions, providing a momentary reprieve from the spectre of further escalation.


bottom of page