A day before Minister for External Affairs S. Jaishankar returned to India from a two-day visit to Teheran, on January 17, 2024, Iran sent shockwaves around the region with a missile strike in Pakistan. Target of the attack was described as hardline Sunni Muslim militant groups in southwest Pakistan. The day Jaishankar returned, Pakistan retaliated similarly. India, however, supported Iran's strikes, reminiscent of its stance during the 2019 Balakot incident in Pakistan. Amid global concerns over Houthi attacks on cargo ships in the Red Sea, the potential escalation between Iran and Pakistan poses a new threat to the Gulf of Oman, spreading into the Arabian Sea. Explore the 'Rest Of The Story.'
Jaishankar's Tehran Visit: Reviving India's Interests in Infrastructure Cooperation
On January 15th, Foreign Minister Jaishankar reached Tehran. During his two-day visit, he had talks with Iranian leadership, indicating India's intention to rekindle its interests in the Islamic republic. Starting his trip with discussions on the Chabahar port and the International North-South Transport Corridor with the Iranian Roads and Urban Development Minister underscores a renewed emphasis on infrastructure cooperation. With Houthi disruptions to Red Sea shipping in the background, this was an important and urgent visit.
Diplomatic Turmoil: Iran-Pakistan Exchange Cross-Border Strikes in 48-Hour Escalation
Two days are a long time in the international diplomacy. Just after Jaishankar's departure from Tehran, Iran executed a missile strike the following day, targeting what it identified as hardline Sunni Muslim militants in southwest Pakistan.
This strike represents one of Iran's most severe cross-border assaults on the Sunni militant group Jaish al-Adl in Pakistan, citing its connections to the Islamic State. Two days after the initial incident, Pakistan retaliated by launching an air strike on what it claimed were separatist militants in Iran.
Escalating Instability: Iran-Backed Militias Target U.S. and Israeli Interests Across the Middle East
The heavily-armed neighbours frequently clash over frontier instability. The escalation heightened concerns about increased instability in the Middle East, a trend unfolding since the Israel-Hamas conflict in October. Iran-backed militias, spanning from Yemen to Lebanon, have been targeting U.S. and Israeli interests, including Red Sea shipping, in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. Additionally, this development occurred just a day after Iran conducted attacks in Iraq and Syria, claiming to target Israeli espionage and Islamic State operations in each respective country.
Iran's Retaliatory Message: Aiming at U.S. Influence, Striking Within Pakistan After Kerman Bombing
For Iran, the trigger for the flare-up was a devastating bombing on January 3 that killed nearly 100 people. The bombing took place at a ceremony in the south-eastern city of Kerman to commemorate commander Qassem Soleimani’s death anniversary. Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone attack in 2020.
Through this attack Iran aims to send signals to the U.S. that it won't hesitate to strike inside Pakistan, where the U.S. wants to establish a new air base. After being evicted from Afghanistan, US wants to keep a toe-hold in Pakistan to counter-check Chinese influence in the region.
Gulf Tensions Threaten Indian Interests: The Complex Dynamics of Chabahar, Gwadar, and Diplomacy
Any escalation in tension between Iran and Pakistan will hurt India's interest and possibly another trade route in the Gulf of Oman. Though there are high stakes involved, such as India's investment in the Chabahar port in Iran and Chinese investment in Pakistan’s Gwadar port. Both India and China have leverage over Iran and Pakistan. However, international diplomacy sometimes gets really messy, and priorities may shift. De-escalation would be difficult in the immediate term, given the high tensions and temperatures at play. But, in today’s geo-politics economics plays a bigger role in diplomatic relations than mere land occupation.