In a Middle East already unsettled by the Israel Hamas war, the spectre of regional conflict is growing.
Pakistan launched retaliatory airstrikes against Iran early Thursday, two days after a similar attack on Pakistani soil by Tehran.
The strike killed at least seven people in Iran’s southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan province, which borders Pakistan.
Pakistan said it hit “terrorist hideouts” in the attack, which has escalated already high tensions between the two nuclear-armed states.
Tehran, likewise, said its attack on Tuesday was aimed at terrorist groups.
Both countries have long accused each other of harbouring militant groups that carry out attacks from their shared border regions.
The tit-for-tat strikes come amid a rising threat of violence spreading in the Middle East unsettled by Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Iran also staged airstrikes late Monday in Iraq and Syria over an Islamic State-claimed suicide bombing that killed over 90 people earlier this month. Iraq has recalled its ambassador from Iran for consultations.
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry described Thursday’s attack as “a series of highly coordinated and specifically targeted precision military strikes.”
“This morning’s action was taken in light of credible intelligence of impending large-scale terrorist activities,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “This action is a manifestation of Pakistan’s unflinching resolve to protect and defend its national security against all threats.”
Iranian officials said three women and four children had been killed.
Several insurgent groups operate in Iran and Pakistan, including the Jaish al-Adl Sunni separatist group that was targeted by Tehran in its own strike.
They all have a common goal of an independent Baluchistan for ethnic Baluch areas in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan.
Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, as well as Iran’s neighboring Sistan and Baluchestan province, have faced a low-level insurgency by Baluch nationalists for more than two decades.
Official military action between Pakistan and Iran on this issue is uncommon, and they typically maintain cordial, although fragile, relations.
On Wednesday, Pakistan recalled its ambassador to Tehran because Iran attacked Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province two days ago.
Iran claimed it targeted bases for a militant Sunni separatist group.
It drew strong condemnation from Pakistan, which denounced the attack as a “blatant violation” of its airspace and said it killed two children.
The risk of escalation remained on Thursday as Iran’s military began a planned annual air defense drill from its port of Chabahar near Pakistan all across the south of the country to Iraq.
The drill will include live fire from aircraft, drones and air defence systems.
Iran and Pakistan share a 900-kilometre (560-mile), largely lawless border in which smugglers and militants freely pass between the two nations. The route is also key to global opium shipments coming out of Afghanistan.