Pakistan's military today carried out targeted strikes in Iran after Tehran launched similar attacks the previous day, escalating tensions between the two neighboring countries.
Both sides said the strikes were aimed at hideouts of militant groups.
The "eye for an eye" response by one nuclear power to the other, which is conducting nuclear warhead research, is the most significant escalation between the two neighbors, who have had strained relations in the past.
The strikes come at a time of growing unrest in the Middle East over the war between Israel and Iran-backed Hamas, which has been going on for more than 100 days.
Although Iran and Pakistan have had warm relations in the past, there have been some tensions over the years.
Enemies were once friends
Iran and Pakistan established relations on August 14, 1947, Pakistan's independence day, when Iran became the first country to recognize the young country.
After the Iranian Revolution (1978-1979), which overthrew the Pahlavi dynasty, Pakistan recognized the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Pakistan is one of the few countries where Iranian influence is perceived positively, according to polls conducted by the Pew Research Center.
A very large proportion of Pakistanis have a positive view of their western neighbour, persistent surveys show.
Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei also called for sympathy, help and cooperation from all Muslim nations, including Pakistan.
During the Cold War (1945-1991), both countries were part of the Western Bloc against the Eastern Bloc.
They are the founders of the anti-communist alliance CENTO.
Iran aided Pakistan in the 1965 Indo-Pakistani War and the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War.
The two countries share a common hostility towards Baloch separatists and cooperated in the Balochistan operation in the 1970s.
During the Soviet-Afghan War (1979-1989), Iran supported the Pakistan-funded Afghan Mujahideen, and Pakistan supported Iran in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988).
Pakistan's support for the Taliban during the Third Afghan Civil War (1992-1996) became a problem for Iran, which at the time was opposed to a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
In the ensuing Fourth Afghan Civil War (1996-2001), Iran supported the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, Iran and Pakistan joined the war on terror.
Following the full withdrawal of US troops and the Taliban's return to power in 2020, Pakistan has been increasing cooperation with Iran to promote peace and stability in Afghanistan, with both sides saying it should not be used for geopolitical rivalry.
Pakistan often serves as a mediator in the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Iran has also expressed interest in joining the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as part of the larger Belt and Road initiative.
The two countries continue to cooperate economically where possible and form alliances in a number of areas of mutual interest, such as countering the drug trade along their border and countering the insurgency in the Balochistan region.
Rumors of a rift have emerged between the two sides as the porous border has become a hotbed of unrest, with accusations of harboring separatist groups fueling the flames.
The events of January 2024 are not born in a vacuum; they are the culmination of years of simmering tensions and a recent escalation of mutual recriminations.
Iran has accused Pakistan of harboring Jaish al-Adl, a Sunni militant group responsible for attacks on Iranian soil.
Pakistan retaliated with similar claims, pointing to Iran's support for Baloch separatists within its borders.
The January 18 conflict ignited a conflagration that is a stark reminder of the fragility of their uneasy coexistence.
Seven non-Iranians were killed in the explosions, which went off at two locations around the Iranian border town of Saravan.
Pakistan's response came after Iran launched strikes against Jaish al-Adl, a separatist group based in Pakistan's Balochistan province, which borders Iran.
Islamabad said the attack killed two children and wounded three others.
Three women and four children were killed in the Pakistani strike against Iran.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian called his Pakistani counterpart on January 17 in an apparent move to ease tensions between the neighbours, although Islamabad insisted it had the right to respond to Tehran's "illegal act".
Pakistan soured diplomatic relations by recalling its envoy from Tehran and asking the Iranian ambassador not to return to Islamabad.
Jaish al-Adl has been designated a foreign terrorist organization by the US and the Sunni militant group operates along predominantly Shiite Iran's porous border with Pakistan.
It has carried out numerous attacks against Iranian security forces, with the most recent attack in December on a police station killing 11 people.
Pakistan has become the second neighbor of Iran to respond to an attack by the country on its territory.
Earlier, on January 16, Iraq criticized Iran's missile attack on an alleged Israeli spy base in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Geopolitics complicate relations between Pakistan and Iran.
Despite strained ties with the West, especially the US, Iran has a key role in the Middle East.
On the other hand, Pakistan continues to maintain strategic alliances with the US and Saudi Arabia, which sometimes leads to differences in their positions on regional and international issues.
The geopolitical situation becomes even more intriguing due to the triangular interaction between Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have always had close ties, while Iran sees Saudi Arabia as an enemy in the region.
This puts Pakistan in a difficult balance as it tries to maintain close ties with Saudi Arabia without upsetting Iran.
Given the shared border with Afghanistan and the security issues it poses for the two neighboring countries, Pakistan and Iran's relations with the Taliban-ruled country have been greatly affected by its instability.
Diplomatic agility and wise decision-making are paramount for Iran and Pakistan to navigate this delicate triangle, preventing tensions from escalating and undermining regional security.
Financial scramble: Pakistan's Arab allies to invest $50 billion over 5 years
In September last year, Pakistan said Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) would each invest $25 billion in its beleaguered country over five years.
The Pakistani government said the investment would target sectors such as mines and minerals, agriculture, defense manufacturing and information technology.
The investments by Saudi Arabia and the UAE are part of a new economic revitalization strategy to increase foreign direct investment in Pakistan.
Pakistan is trying to deal with a critical balance of payments crisis.
The country of about 241 million people needs billions of dollars in foreign currency to pay off its international debts and bridge its trade deficit in the current financial year.
Islamabad is carrying out long-delayed economic reforms in line with IMF demands, leading to a historic increase in energy prices when inflation is already hovering around 29%.
The heavy-handed reforms have sparked near-daily protests across the country, inflated electricity bills and skyrocketing fuel prices.
Meanwhile, Iran is already experiencing economic difficulties due to all the sanctions imposed on the country.
But amid the noise of military maneuvers and diplomatic blitzes, a more nuanced narrative is unfolding.
This conflict is related to both internal struggles and external tensions.
Both Iran and Pakistan struggle with their own demons - Iran, reeling under the weight of sanctions and internal unrest, seeks to consolidate its power and make a show of force; Pakistan, struggling with internal insurgencies and economic problems, is seeking to assert its strategic importance.
The specter of great power rivalry further complicates the equation.
Iran's ties to Russia and China balance Pakistan's close alliance with the US and Saudi Arabia, turning the regional equation into a complex geopolitical chessboard.
The immediate future for both sides remains shrouded in uncertainty.
While the outbreak of war seems unlikely, the potential for further clashes and escalation casts a dark shadow over the region.
The way forward requires delicate diplomacy, confidence-building measures and a willingness to address the root causes of the conflict. /BGNES, TBSNEWS