Foreign Affairs
Iran’s Decision to Provoke Pakistan

The recent escalation of tensions between Iran and Pakistan has raised concerns about regional stability. The catalyst for the recent conflict is an Iranian cross-border attack on alleged terrorist hideouts in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. The Iranian foreign minister’s move was seen as a retaliatory measure against militant activities emanating from Pakistani soil.

This triggered a series of responses and counter-responses, bringing the two neighbors to a critical juncture. Pakistan’s swift military action was framed as a targeted operation against militants, codenamed ‘Marg Bar Sarmachar’ (death to insurgents), eliminating specific terrorist hideouts within Iran’s Sistan and Baluchistan Province. The situation between the two countries is moving towards normalization.

The timing of Iran’s unprovoked attack raises questions about its strategic objectives, especially amid heightened tensions with the United States in other parts of the region. Pakistan’s Prime Minister met with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian during the World Economic Forum in Davos, during the day Iran conducted its strike.

The simultaneous launch of diplomatic engagements, military exercises, and trade delegations by Iran and Pakistan adds complexity to the ongoing conflict. The timing of these attacks is attributed to Tehran’s attempt to distract from ongoing political and economic instability. Iran has faced political turmoil since the 1979 revolution, leading to widespread distrust in the regime and widespread street protests. Iranian society has been further strained by economic challenges such as inflation, unemployment, and the aftermath of sanctions.

The 2017 anti-regime protests, initiated in December, persisted without abatement, and by September 2022, millions of discontented individuals mobilized nationwide, presenting the most formidable challenge to the clerical regime in four decades. Dissatisfaction continues to mount due to persistent issues like environmental challenges, water scarcity, transportation difficulties, brain drain, immigration, and surging inflation.

Iran, a regional nation, has been systematically meddling in the internal affairs of neighboring states, creating friction and instability. This interference, through proxies, has caused discontent among Middle Eastern neighbors, including Lebanon and Pakistan. Iran’s recent missile strikes on Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan demonstrate a chronic strategy of provoking neighbors and the West to appease domestic unrest. Tehran anticipated muted reactions from Iraq and Syria, but Pakistan’s prompt response likely caught Iran off guard.

The Iranian authorities also anticipated a nuclear Pakistan would resort to more stringent retaliation if provoked further. Iran also expected Beijing’s mediating role to prevent a further decline in relations with Islamabad.

The outcome aligns with expectations as Iran and Pakistan are currently working on normalizing their relations. This episode offers a momentary reprieve for the Iranian regime, grappling with internal pressure and international isolation due to its alleged support for the Houthis, whose actions have disrupted global trade, particularly in the Red Sea crisis.

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