A man reads a newspaper, after the Pakistani foreign ministry said the country conducted strikes targeting separatist militants inside Iran, along a road in Karachi, Pakistan January 18, 2024.

Tensions Remain As Pakistan Arrests Alleged Iran-Backed Militant

Monday, 01/22/2024

After last week’s IRGC missile and drone attack in Iraq and Pakistan, tensions remain high with both countries, despite Tehran’s attempts to show an air of normality.

Tehran has tried to quash talk of trouble with Pakistan, but Pakistan's Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) has said it arrested a suspect in the 2019 assassination attempt on a top Pakistani cleric, saying the suspect is a "trained terrorist" who belongs to the Zainebiyoun Brigade, a militant group of Pakistani Shiites created by Iran to fight in Syria.

Pakistan’s CTD said that Syed Mohammad Mehdi was arrested in an operation at a bazaar in Karachi, accusing him of targeting clerics in the provincial capital and of working for Iranian intelligence.

This seems to be a signal by Islamabad that not everything is resolved with Iran, and the Pakistani government remains vigilant about any further actions by Tehran.

Similarly, Kurds in Iraq held a large protest rally on Monday to condemn Iran’s ballistic missile strikes on their capital Erbil a week ago that killed a Kurdish businessman.

People demonstrate in front of the United Nations headquarters, following missile attacks by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, in Erbil, Iraq, January 16, 2024.

Khuram Waris, who heads the CTD in Karachi, told Radio Mashaal that Mehdi is a Pakistani citizen who received training in a "neighboring country”, implicitly pointing the finger at Iran. He said:” He is a member of the Zainabiyoun Brigade. He was involved in many attacks, including the attack on Mufti Taqi Usmani in Karachi."

Usmani, a religious scholar and former top court judge in Pakistan, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in Karachi in 2019. Two of Usmani's bodyguards were killed in the attack, for which no group claimed responsibility.

The IRGC’s January 16 attacks against Jaish al-Adl, a US designated terrorist group accused by Tehran of carrying out deadly attacks in Iran, were justified by Tehran as its "legitimate and legal right to deter national security threats."

Pakistan condemned the strike on its territory and responded on January 18 with air strikes against separatist groups allegedly hiding out on Iranian territory.

In Tehran, the government is trying to act as if it is business as usual, but the tension is palpable. Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said that while the recent attack on “terrorist bases” was due to what he called “an immediate necessity to deal with terrorists ready to operate”, suggesting an imminent attack had been thwarted, he stressed that relations between the two nations are “strong and fraternal”. 

Addressing the media, he said: “Terrorism is a common threat of both sides, and Tehran and Islamabad emphasize on fighting it, and the recent action cannot create a disruption in the relations between the two countries.

But as Pakistan continues to claim the terror on its soil is backed by the Iranian government itself, the question remains as to how diplomatic relations move forward. 

In a span of 24 hours, Iran’s IRGC launched missile and drone strikes on three neighboring countries, claiming ‘revenge’ for civilians and troops killed in the past few weeks. Having hit several locations in Syria and Iraqi Kurdistan Monday, Pakistan was the final country to feel the wrath of Iran’s Quds Forces. 

Pakistan swiftly responded by a targeted assassination of IRGC Colonel Hossein-Ali Javdanfar, killed in a car near the Pakistan border. Two of his bodyguards were also killed. 

The incident led to both Iraq and Pakistan withdrawing its ambassadors and Pakistan threatening to permanently close borders. The issue has also been raised to the Arab League which is set to hold an emergency meeting in the coming days or weeks. 

The Sunni group, Jaish al-Adl, could just be the fan to the flames of a relationship which was never entirely on solid ground and with the latest attacks on Pakistan, look to face a troubled future.

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