ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Tuesday summoned an Iranian ambassador to record a formal protest over the recent statement by the Iranian military chief, threatening to conduct cross-border raids against alleged militant hideouts, in a rare development suggesting friction between the two neighbors.
Pakistan and Iran have had issues in the past but they rarely discussed or pointed fingers at each other through public statements.
Hence, officials were shocked over the statement by Iranian Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, Major General Mohammad Baqeri, who said his country would hit bases inside Pakistan if Islamabad does not confront ‘Sunni militants’ responsible for cross-border attacks.
At least 11 Iranian guards were killed and two others injured in an ambush near the town of Mirjaveh in the southeastern Iranian province of Sistan Balochestan last month.
The Jaish ul-Adl terrorist group, in a statement, had claimed responsibility for the attack. Iran said assailants escaped into Pakistani territory immediately after the assault.
Reacting to the incident, President Hassan Rowhani issued a strong public statement, urging Pakistan not to allow its territory to be used by such groups against Iran.
Pakistan strongly condemned the attack but made it clear that incident happened on the Iranian side of the border.
Just days after the attack, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif made an unannounced trip to Islamabad where he held talks with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
The two countries agreed to a series of steps including the revival of the hotline between the border guards of the two countries to prevent such incidents in the future.
The Iranian foreign minister also claimed that Gen Qamar agreed to deploy additional troops along the Iranian border.
But the statement of Iranian military chief suggested that Tehran was far from convinced.
“We cannot accept the continuation of this situation,” Major General Mohammad Baqeri, the head of the Iranian armed forces was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.
“We expect the Pakistani officials to control the borders, arrest the terrorists and shut down their bases.
“If the terrorist attacks continue, we will hit their safe havens and cells, wherever they are,” he said.
A day after his controversial statement, the Iranian ambassador to Pakistan was called to the Foreign Office for conveying Pakistan’s concerns.
“It was conveyed to the Iranian ambassador that such remarks were against the spirit of brotherly relations existing between the two countries,” the communique read.
The statement said that the recent high-level exchanges from both the sides had strengthened bilateral cooperation, who had agreed to enhance cooperation on border issues.
“The Iranian side was urged to avoid issuance of such statements that could vitiate the environment of fraternal relations,” the statement concluded.
Independent observers believe aggressive posturing by Iran could possibly be linked to the recent move by Pakistan allowing the former army chief General (retd) Raheel Sharif to lead a Saudi-led alliance against terrorism.
While Pakistan insists that its participation in the alliance is solely meant to fight terrorism, Iran alleges that the main purpose of the Saudi initiative is to further the Kingdom’s interests in the volatile Middle East region.