ISLAMABAD: Pakistan said on Friday it did not want to escalate a standoff with Iran, as Islamabad’s top civilian and military leadership gathered to review the situation after both countries exchanged strikes on militant bases on each other’s territory.
Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar ul Haq Kakar has begun a meeting of the high-powered National Security Committee, with all the military services chiefs in attendance, a source in the prime minister’s Office told Reuters.
The meeting aims at a “broad national security review in the aftermath of the Iran-Pakistan incidents,” Information Minister Murtaza Solangi said. Kakar cut short a visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos and flew home on Thursday.
The tit-for-tat strikes by the two countries are the highest-profile cross-border intrusions in recent years and have raised alarm about wider instability in the Middle East since the war between Israel and Hamas erupted on Oct. 7.
However, both sides have already signalled a desire to cool tensions, although they have had a history of rocky relations.
“Pakistan has no interest or desire in escalation,” the country’s Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani said in a telephone call with his Turkish counterpart.
Iran said Thursday’s strikes killed nine people in a border village on its territory, including four children. Pakistan said the Iranian attack on Tuesday killed two children.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the two nations to exercise maximum restraint. The US also urged restraint although President Joe Biden said the clashes showed that Iran is not well liked in the region.
Islamabad said it hit bases of the separatist Baloch Liberation Front and Baloch Liberation Army, while Tehran said its drones and missiles struck militants from the Jaish al Adl (JAA) group.
The militant groups that were attacked operate in an area that includes Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan and Iran’s southeastern Sistan-Baluchestan province. Both are restive, mineral-rich and largely underdeveloped.
The groups struck by Islamabad have been waging an armed insurgency for decades against the Pakistani state, including attacks against Chinese citizens and investments in Balochistan.
The JAA, which Iran attacked, is also an ethnic militant group, but with Sunni Islamist leanings seen as a threat by Iran, which is mainly Shiite. The group, which has had links to Islamic State, has carried out attacks in Iran against its powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Against the backdrop of the war in Gaza, Iran and its allies have been flexing their muscles in the region. This week Iran also launched strikes on Syria against what it said were Islamic State sites, and Iraq, where it said it had struck an Israeli espionage center.
Inside Pakistan, civilian leaders came together to throw their support behind the military despite a deeply divided political arena in the buildup to national elections next month.
Former foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, a candidate for his party for prime minister, and the party of three-time premier Nawaz Sharif, considered an electoral frontrunner in the polls, said Pakistan had the right to defend itself but called for dialogue with Iran moving ahead.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party of jailed former prime minister Imran Khan also condemned Iran, but called the strikes on Pakistan a failure of the caretaker government brought in to oversee the elections.
The PTI “seeks an immediate explanation from the unconstitutional, illegal, unrepresentative and unelected government for its complete failure to safeguard the integrity, security and defense of Pakistan,” it said in a statement.