Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan

Abdollahian in Islamabad: third countries are behind terrorism on the border

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN – Iranian and Pakistani officials say they are adamant to mend diplomatic relations and bilateral cooperation after an exchange of missiles brought the two neighbors to the brink of a dangerous military escalation.

Early this morning, January 29, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, arrived in Islamabad to meet his Pakistani counterpart, Jalil Abbas Jilani in the wake of a previous announcement to restore diplomatic relations. He is also set to meet with Pakistan’s caretaker prime minister, Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar and the country’s powerful Army Chief, Assim Munir.

The development comes in the days following escalating tensions between the two neighbors, sparked by an Iranian air strike in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province on January 16. This led Islamabad to retaliate a day later by striking what it called “terrorist hideouts” in the neighboring country’s Sistan-Baluchestan province. The strikes reportedly killed 11 civilians, with nine fatalities in Iran and two children in Pakistan. Following the strikes, Pakistan had called home its ambassador in Tehran and advised the Iranian Charge d’affaires who was in his home country at the time to also not return to Islamabad.

The two countries have long blamed their own favorite foes for taking advantage of the fragile security environment in the border regions between them. Iran accuses the U.S. for destabilizing the region while in the Pakistani government’s rhetoric it is India who supports groups such as the Baloch insurgency.

Addressing a joint press conference alongside his Pakistani counterpart, Jalil Abbas Jilani, Abdollahian repeated those allegations in vague terms that could be interpreted differently in each of the two countries. “There is no doubt that the terrorists located in the common border regions and areas of Iran and Pakistan are led and supported by third countries and they never favor any good action in line with the benefits of the Iranian and Pakistani governments and nations,” he said.

According to the Pakistani Foreign Minister, Jalil Abbas Jilani, the two chief diplomats have agreed to establish a high-level consultative mechanism to improve future cooperation. Speaking alongside Abdollahian in Islamabad, Jilani said that the mechanism will convene at the foreign minister level and meet regularly, alternating between Tehran and Islamabad, to “allay and address each other’s concerns”.

While the two countries sought to ease tensions after the deadly cross-border attacks, the border region between them remains fragile. On Saturday, January 27, nine Pakistani workers were killed by unidentified gunmen near the border in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan province. Pakistan has demanded an immediate and comprehensive investigation and swift prosecution of those responsible for the incident.

Abdollahian visits Islamabad as regional tensions in the wake of the war in Gaza are only escalating. Yesterday, January 28, the U.S. announced that three of its service members were killed and 30 more wounded in drone attacks by an Iran-supported militant group based in Syria and Iraq. Iranian officials have denied Tehran’s connection to the incident, saying “the region does not need more tension or a new war.”

Pakistan, although not entangled in the war in Gaza as deeply as Iran, has its own troubles, particularly with the Taliban who rule over Afghanistan. Relations have particularly soured in recent weeks with unprecedented exchange of allegations between Pakistani military officials and Taliban leaders.

In light of these tensions, Pakistan has refrained from sending its special envoy to a meeting in Kabul the Taliban launched this morning with regional stakeholders, including Russia, China, Iran, and Central Asia.