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Iran strikes in Iraq, Syria and Pakistan

  • Context (IE | TH): Recently, Iran carried out air strikes in Iraq, Syria and Pakistan.

Middle east map

Recent attacks on Iran

  • December 2023: Police station in Iran’s Sistan Baluchestan province was attacked by the Jaish al-Adl.
  • Senior adviser to Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was killed in an alleged Israeli air strike in a southern suburb of Damascus (Syria) in December 2023.
  • The Islamic State-Khorasan (the Afghanistan-based branch of the Islamic State terrorist group) claimed Kerman blasts in January 2024.

Retaliatory Iranian air strikes

  • It launched missiles and kamikaze drones into Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan.
  • The IRGC claimed to have destroyed “an espionage centre” of Mossad, Israel’s external security agency.
  • Iran launched missiles into Syria’s Idlib, the northwestern region controlled by jihadists and rebels.
  • Iran carried out a surprise attack in Panjgur, a border town in Pakistan’s Balochistan, claiming to target the training camps of Jaish al-Adl.

Pakistan’s response

  • Pakistan denounced the attack as a “blatant violation” of its airspace and UN charter.
  • It has recalled the country’s Ambassador to Iran.
  • Pakistan has launched retaliatory strikes, claiming to target “terrorist hideouts” in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan province.

What is Jaish al-Adl, which Iran claimed to target?

  • Jaish al-Adl, the “Army of Justice”, is a Sunni Salafist militant group.
  • It operates in the Baloch areas of Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
  • It is an offshoot of Jundallah – a designated Foreign Terrorist Organisation by the US.
  • It aims for independence of the Sistan and Baluchestan provinces (known as Asli Balouchestan).
  • “Asli Balouchestan refers to the southeastern corner of Iran and part of Pakistan’s Balochistan.

Balochs in Iran

  • Ethnic groups of the Pakistani province of Balochistan and Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan provinces.
  • They speak the Balochi language with a unique cultural identity, different from ethnic Persians.
  • The Sunni Baloch minority in Iran has faced religious persecution by the Shia state, especially after the Revolution of 1979.
  • Moreover, Sistan and Baluchestan remain among the country’s poorest regions.

Neighbouring Countries of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan

  • Iran: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Turkey.
  • Pakistan: Afghanistan, Iran, India. Pakistan does not border China (India’s Official Map).
  • Afghanistan: China, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, India.

Iran Afghanistan Pakistan map

Pakistan’s Attack on Iran

  • Pakistan targeted Iran-based hideouts of the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) and the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) — both deemed as “terrorist organisations” by Pakistan.

Balochistan

Baloch Liberation Front (BLF)

  • It was founded by Jumma Khan Marri in Damascus, Syria, in 1964.
  • Carried out Baloch insurgency in Iran in 1968-73, then in Pakistan in 1973-78.
  • It moved to Afghanistan in the 1980s, with a resurgence in 2004 led by Allah Nazar Baloch.

Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA)

  • Founded around 2000 and began a violent struggle for Baloch self-determination in Pakistan in 2004.
  • Currently led by Basheer Zeb.

Militant activities by BLF & BLA

  • Attacks on Pakistan: On civilians, journalists, government officials and military in Pakistan, Balochistan and beyond.
  • Attacks on Chinese personals: Both these Baloch militant groups target Chinese gas and infrastructure projects in Pakistan.
  • Alleged India connection: Pakistan has alleged that India provides arms, training, and financial aid to these groups.
  • Rejection by India: India and the militant groups reject such baseless claims.

Geographical features of Balochistan Region

  • Sulaiman Range lies in the East and South-East.
  • Central Makran Range and the Makran Coast Range to the south divide the coastal plain from the rest of the plateau.
  • Mountain Pass: Bolan pass, Khojak pass, Lak pass, Harnai pass, Gonshero pass etc.
  • Rivers: Bolan, Zhob, Hingol, Nari, Porali, Kud, Dasht etc.

Strait of Hormuz Makran desert Dasht e kavir dasht e lut Hindu kush

Iran-Pakistan Strikes: India’s Stakes

Foreign Policy Implications

  • Dynamic elements: Terrorism, close ties with Israel, and deeper engagement with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are dynamic elements in Indian foreign policy.
  • Geopolitical impacts of Baluchistan’s strategic location cannot be ignored.
  • China’s presence in Gwadar complicates the situation for both India and the US.
  • Developmental projects in Iran and Afghanistan, including the Chabahar port, can be affected.

Security Implications

  • Organised crime: The ungoverned and under-governed spaces in the Baloch lands provide fertile ground for organised crime, posing a challenge to internal security.
  • Role of Taliban: In search of new friends in the region, the adventures of the Taliban may escalate.
  • Maritime security of India is being challenged by the attacks on its shipping in the Arabian Sea.
  • Jammu and Kashmir: Pakistan may escalate militancy in J&K to divert domestic attention.

Economic interests

  • An unstable Middle East with crucial shipping routes and resources impacts India’s economic interests.
  • Energy needs of India rely heavily on the oil-rich Gulf region, which is the centre of the conflict.
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