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Photo Source: The Guardian

Pakistan Reader# 712, 18 January 2024

Pakistan strikes back: Retaliatory missile attacks on Iran



The Jaish-al-Adl (Army of Justice), whose terror bases Iran claims to have attacked in Pakistan, are a Sunni Salafist militant group operational in th

Rohini Reenum

What happened?
On 18 January, Pakistan carried out strikes in Iran’s Sistan-o-Baluchistan province against alleged terrorist hideouts. According to a press release by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the intelligence-based operation codenamed “Marg Bar Samachar” (Death to Saramchar) led to the killing of numerous terrorists. The statement also provided background and rationale to these attacks, stating:“Over the last several years, in our engagements with Iran, Pakistan has consistently shared its serious concerns about the safe havens and sanctuaries enjoyed by Pakistani origin terrorists calling themselves ‘Sarmachars’ on the ungoverned spaces inside Iran. Pakistan also shared multiple dossiers with concrete evidence of the presence and activities of these terrorists.” It further read:“However, because of lack of action on our serious concerns, these so-called Sarmachars continued to spill the blood of innocent Pakistanis with impunity. This morning’s action was taken in light of credible intelligence of impending large-scale terrorist activities by these Sarmachars. This action is a manifestation of Pakistan’s unflinching resolve to protect and defend its national security against all threats.”  
Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported that at least three women and four children were killed as a result of these attacks.
On 16 January, Iran launched missile and drone attacks in Pakistan targeting the alleged terror bases of a militant group called Jaish-al-Adl in Panjgur, Balochistan. According to Dawn, two children were killed in the attack and three girls were injured. Pakistan had reacted strongly to the attacks, terming it an “illegal act” and a gross violation of its airspace and sovereignty. It had also warned Iran of consequences and stated that the onus of Pakistan’s reaction would lie with Tehran.
On 17 January, Pakistan downgraded its diplomatic relationship with Iran by recalling its ambassador from Tehran and prohibiting Iran’s envoy from returning to Pakistan. Pakistan has also stated that its strategy and response to the attacks are still evolving. The two countries share a long border and have had a long history of tensions arising out of the cross-border nature of terror attacks on their soil. The present escalation, however, is unprecedented in recent times. Let us look at who these terror groups operating in the region are:
 
In Iran, who are the militants for Pakistan?
Pakistan has claimed to have attacked “Pakistani origin terrorists” operating in Iran and called them “Sarmachars” without alluding to the various separatist Baloch militant groups in the region like the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and the Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF). The restive province of Balochistan shares a border with the Sistan-Baluchistan province of Iran which is a Baloch majority area and the base of Jaish-al-Adl which operates in adjoining Baloch majority areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Baloch militants of Pakistan are separatist groups fighting variously for “Greater Balochistan” or a separate Balochistan state.
 
In Pakistan, who are the militants for Iran?
The Jaish-al-Adl (Army of Justice), whose terror bases Iran claims to have attacked in Pakistan, are a Sunni Salafist militant group operational in the border regions of Pakistan and Iran. According to The Indian Express, it has bases in Pakistan’s Balochistan province and is one amongst the many Sunni militant separatist groups who claim “to be fighting for the independence of the Sistan and Baluchestan (known as Asli Balouchestan) province in Iran.” The Sistan-Baluchestan province in Iran shares a border with Pakistan’s Balochistan province and the Indian Ocean. The group has been variously described as either being a faction or an “avatar” of “the older Jundallah terrorist organization based in Pakistan’s Balochistan.” According to the Counter-Terrorism Guide of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) of the United States, the Jundallah had renamed itself Jaish al-Adl (JAA) in 2012.  According to Aljazeera, the group has been targeting and launching attacks against the Iranian border guards at least since 2013 when fourteen Iranian personnel were killed in an ambush. Since then, it has carried out multiple attacks mainly against Iranian security forces, especially in the areas that share a border with Pakistan. After an attack by the group that killed twenty-seven members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary guards in a targeted suicide car bomb attack, the then IRGC Commander-in-Chief Mohammad Ali Jafari chief had warned Pakistan to crack down on the armed group and had stated that a failure to do so would force Tehran to seek “revenge.” He had stated: “If Pakistan fails to punish them in the near future, Iran will do so based on international law and will retaliate against the terrorists.”The last attack that the group claimed responsibility for took place in the border town of Rask in the Sistan-Baluchistan province of Iran, on a police station that had killed eleven Iranian security personnel. Iran has claimed that its recent attack on Pakistan was in retaliation to this.
 
References
Abdullah Momand, “Operation Marg Bar Sarmachar: Pakistan strikes terrorist hideouts in Iran after airspace violation,” Dawn, 18 January 2024
Baqir Sajjad Syed, “Tehran ties downgraded in wake of cross-border attack,” Dawn, 18 January 2024
“Pakistan launches ‘precise’ military strikes on Iran in response to bombing,” Aljazeera, 18 January 2024
“Who are the Jaish al-Adl terrorist group, whose bases Iran has destroyed in Pakistan?,” The Indian Express, 17 January 2024
“Pakistan-Iran border tensions: A timeline,” Aljazeera, 17 January 2024
Ted Regencia, “Iran warns Pakistan to crack down on Jaish al-Adl,”Aljazeera, 16 february 2019
“Suicide attack kills 27 members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard,” Aljazeera, 13 February 2019

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