Airstrikes won’t solve militancy problem of Iran and Pakistan, talks will

  • Zia Ur Rehman
  • Jan 21, 2024

The recent exchange of airstrikes between Iran and Pakistan has sent a chilling message, emphasizing the critical need for diplomatic resolutions over military confrontations. While concerns of both countries about militant activity are legitimate, the resort to cross-border attacks is a dangerous gamble that risks plunging the region into further instability.

Both nations need to step back, breathe, and find a way to talk, not fight. The escalation not only jeopardizes regional stability but also has the potential to deepen sectarian tensions, given the Sunni-majority population in Pakistan and the Shia majority in Iran. Additionally, it threatens to undermine the positive momentum in the region generated by the China-brokered Iran-Saudi rapprochement.

Firstly, Tehran’s decision to launch airstrikes first carries the risk of igniting a dangerous cycle of retaliation, ultimately proving unfruitful in addressing the issue of cross-border militancy. Understandably, Iran faces internal security challenges, particularly after the January 3 suicide bombing in Kerman claimed by the Islamic State Khorasan Province, killing over 100 people. Most of the experts studying the conflict in the region believe that Iran’s airstrike appears to be a hastily executed attempt to pacify a restless public by flexing military muscle. However, this “shoot first, think later”  approach, carrying out airstrikes not just in Pakistan but also in Iraq and Syria, reveals a troubling trend of externalizing internal pressures.

But whether Iranian militant groups like Jaish-al Adl and Jundullah, or Pakistani proscribed groups like Baloch Liberation Front and Baloch Liberation Army, these actors thrive on chaos and instability. Escalation only strengthens their narrative and recruitment potential. Unintended civilian casualties could further alienate populations on both sides, providing fertile ground for resentment and extremist ideologies.

Secondly, the escalation of tensions between Pakistan and Iran could have broader regional repercussions. Both nations play crucial roles in the South Asian and Middle Eastern geopolitical landscapes. A sustained conflict could spill over into other flashpoints, destabilizing the already fragile balance of power and potentially drawing in other regional actors. The consequences for trade, security, and overall regional cooperation would be immense.

But it’s not just about the big picture. Think of the Baloch people, living along this 900-kilometer border, their lives woven together by kinship and trade. Now, their villages are in the crossfire, their livelihoods attached to the border economy are threatened, and their ancestral ties are strained. This isn’t just a political game, it’s about real lives, real people caught in the middle. 

Instead of resorting to violence, Pakistan and Iran should explore diplomatic avenues to address their concerns about cross-border militancy. Direct talks between the two nations, or talks facilitated by neutral third parties such as China, are crucial to fostering mutual understanding and finding common ground. Collaborative intelligence sharing, joint initiatives to address the root causes of extremism, and strengthened border security measures could be far more effective in tackling the problem.

The recent phone calls between the foreign ministers of both countries are a positive step. This willingness to communicate directly, bypassing inflammatory rhetoric, is crucial to creating an environment conducive to dialogue and compromise.

In conclusion, the recent airstrikes are a stark warning. Pakistan and Iran stand at a crossroads. They can choose the path of violence, leading to further instability and suffering. Or, they can choose the path of diplomacy and cooperation, building a more peaceful future for their people and the region as a whole. The choice is theirs, and the consequences will be far-reaching.


Zia Ur Rehman

The author is a Pakistani journalist and researcher with expertise in regional conflict trends assessment and social movements. He posts on X as @zalmayzia

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