Pakistan-Iran Border Tension: Geopolitical Analysis

Iran Pakistan border tension
Tension at the border between Iran and Pakistan (Credits: US DOS, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 38 Issue 11
Author: Silvia Boltuc

The escalating tensions between Pakistan and Iran, triggered by cross-border military actions and subsequent diplomatic fallout, have broader regional implications. Pakistan’s forceful response, coupled with its nuclear capabilities and geopolitical alliances, introduces complexities, impacting not only bilateral relations but also involving influential stakeholders such as China.

Key findings

  1. The cross-border military actions between Pakistan and Iran, stemming from Tehran’s missile attack and Pakistan’s subsequent strikes, have heightened diplomatic tensions, leading to the expulsion of ambassadors and withdrawal of envoys.
  2. The complex dynamics involve not only internal factors, such political instability and challenges in managing terrorism, but also external considerations, including economic interests, regional trade dynamics, and the delicate role of China as an influential stakeholder.
  3. The potential escalation, which includes nuclear capabilities, poses a threat to the already delicate dynamics in the Middle East.

Background Information

On January 18th, 2024, Pakistan declared that it conducted military strikes within Iranian sovereign territory. This action seemed to be a response to Tehran’s missile attack on Jaish al-Adl positions within Pakistan. According to the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, it was a ‘specifically targeted precision military strikes against terrorist hideouts’ in the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchestan. Specifically, the target were Pakistani origin terrorists calling themselves Sarmachars. The attack resulted in nine fatalities, including three women and four children, all of whom were not of Iranian nationality.

Regarding Tehran’s actions, Foreign Minister Amirabdollahian stressed that the target of the cross-border airstrikes were Iranian terrorists present on Pakistani soil and that Tehran did not target Pakistani citizens. The diplomat added that the Islamic Republic of Iran has no tolerance for terrorists operating within the territories of Iraq and Pakistan, posing a threat to Iran’s security. Indeed, ‘Tehran considers the security of Iraq and Pakistan to be that of the security of Iran’.

Islamabad’s forceful response followed the expulsion of the Iranian ambassador and the withdrawal of its own envoy from Tehran. This reaction was prompted by allegations of Iran violating Pakistan’s airspace and causing the death of two civilians, according to the Pakistani government.


The forceful response from Pakistan, instead of diplomatic channels, reflects concerns about reputation, regional perception, and internal stability. It was imperative for Islamabad not to appear weak in front of regional powers. Amid longstanding internal destabilisation and challenges in managing terrorism, a lack of decisive action could undermine consensus, particularly in the context of upcoming national elections.

Economically, Pakistan faces challenges due to regional trade dynamics. India and Afghanistan are engaging in substantial trade deals with Iran, and the preference for Iranian routes over Pakistani ones by several regional players poses further economic concerns. Apparently, Pakistan’s internal instability has led various regional actors to consider Iran as a more politically stable and secure country, suitable for use as a transit hub.

The involvement of China, a significant investor in Pakistan, adds complexity, as regional stability becomes crucial for Beijing’s strategic interests.

Various Baloch separatist groups have claimed attacks on projects linked to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project in the past, with thousands of security personnel deployed to counter threats against Beijing’s interests.

The tension between Islamabad and Tehran creates a challenging scenario for Beijing, considering China’s significant agreements with these countries, both members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

Finding a solution to the Baloch separatist movements would be a substantial advantage for Beijing. However, the success of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) relies on regional stability. An Iran-Pakistan confrontation would undermine this stability, posing a direct threat to the BRI project.

As for Tehran, in the present Middle Eastern scenario, marked by various active fronts (specifically involving Israel and Syria, Israel and Lebanon, in the Red Sea between the Houthis and Western coalition forces, and between Israel and Gaza), Iran is involved on multiple levels. The equilibrium achieved through an unconventional war, characterised by precise and limited attacks, risks escalating uncontrollably, potentially pushing the country into a full-scale conflict.

Tehran must not overlook the political influence of Pakistan, a longstanding ally of the United States, which holds the potential to bring the case to the United Nations Security Council, as Iraq did.

Additionally, it is crucial to recognise that Pakistan, being a nuclear power, has shown through the Marg Bar Sarmachar operation that it may not always opt for diplomatic resolutions but can resort to the use of force in addressing regional disputes.

In addition, the recent Iranian ‘anti-terrorism’ operations conducted in foreign territories, including Syria, Iraq, and Pakistan, bring additional scrutiny to Iran’s ballistic missile program, not a favourable outcome for Tehran. Notably, despite the expiration of United Nations sanctions in October 2023, the European Union chose to uphold restrictions on Iran concerning nuclear, conventional, and missile weapons.

Overall, it is probable that the existing lack of mutual trust, rooted in ideological and political differences, will persist between the two countries. Nevertheless, working towards stabilising the common border and reducing tension could yield positive outcomes for both nations.

Read more | Iran-Pakistan Relations: Changing from Tactical to Strategic Ties

Risk Assessment

The country’s risk for both Pakistan and Iran is significant, marked by the recent military strikes, diplomatic fallout, and the expulsion of ambassadors. Pakistan’s internal instability, coupled with its nuclear capabilities, adds a layer of complexity, making the situation precarious. For Iran, the risk lies in potential diplomatic isolation and the impact on its engagements in various Middle Eastern dynamics.

Regionally, the risk involves China, whose strategic interests could be affected by escalating tensions. Additionally, with the current destabilisation of the broader Middle East, an escalation between Tehran and Islamabad further complicating the security landscape.

Scenarios Analysis

  1. Diplomatic De-escalation. Pakistan and Iran engage in diplomatic efforts, facilitated by international mediation, leading to a reduction in tensions and a return to normalcy in bilateral relations. This would require concessions from both sides.
  2. Economic Reconciliation. A scenario where economic considerations become paramount, compelling regional stakeholders to prioritise stability for the success of trade, drive diplomatic resolutions.
  3. Escalation and International Intervention. In this less optimistic scenario, tensions escalate further, risking a broader conflict. External actors, such as the UN or influential nations, intervene to mediate and prevent further deterioration, but the region faces prolonged instability with potential spillover effects.


Given the intricate geopolitical landscape, diplomatic resolution is imperative to prevent further escalation. Mediation by common partner-countries might be pursued to address underlying issues comprehensively.

Regional stability, especially along common borders, is crucial for long-term benefits. Pakistan and Iran must collaborate to rebuild mutual trust and jointly address the terrorist groups affecting both nations.

Simultaneously, Tehran and Islamabad should consider developing a new strategy to stabilise the region inhabited by the Baloch ethnic minorities. Meeting some needs of the Baloch population and enhancing their living conditions could potentially mitigate the separatist tendencies within these groups.

For those with an interest in acquiring comprehensive insights into the geopolitical dynamics of the Middle East, we encourage you to reach out to our team by sending an email to We are poised to facilitate an assessment of the opportunity for you to obtain a meticulously crafted and specialised report tailored to your intelligence needs.

Read more | Iran’s Strikes Against Jaish al-Adl in Pakistan

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