London, Asharq Al-Awsat—According to reports, Iranian border guards fired 5 mortar shells on the Pakistani town of Mashkail in Baluchistan province on Friday. Responding to the attack, Pakistani forces fired two rockets into Iranian territory. Reports differed regarding the number of people injured or killed in the exchange of fire with some claiming that one Pakistani border guard had been killed in the incident.
This is the first time that Pakistan and Iran have exchanged fire in decades. News of the exchange of fire between Pakistan and Iran were reported simultaneously by Pakistani and Iranian news agencies on Friday. There has been no official confirmation or denial of the exchange of fire from Tehran or Islamabad at the time that this article went to press.
Over the past few months, a number of armed attacks against Iranian border force have been carried out by Iranian Baluchi opposition group Jaish Al-Adl (Army of Justice). It is not yet known whether the Iranian border guards were seeking to target Jaish Al-Adl fighters in Friday’s offensive.
Baluchistan is divided between Iran and Pakistan with armed groups demanding further autonomy from respective central governments. The Baluch people are predominantly Sunni. Jaish Al-Adl claims that the central government of the Shi’ite-led Islamic Republic of Iran is discriminatory against the Sunni Baluch minority, citing socio-political, economic and cultural discrimination.
In the aftermath of Jaish Al-Adl attacks, Iranian officials have usually claimed that this resulted in an incursion from the group from Pakistani territory, calling on Islamabad to implement tighter border control.
Pakistani officials have denied accusations of lax border security while Jaish Al-Adl have claimed to be present inside Iranian Baluchistan, launching attacks from Iranian territory, not across the borders.
On Thursday, deputy coordinator for Iran’s Quds Force South-East division Colonel Ali Khalili announced that Iranian forces are set to launch nightly reconnaissance flights in order to ensure greater security along the border areas between Iran and Pakistan and prevent the infiltration of Iranian territory by armed opposition groups.
On Friday, Jaish Al-Adl leader Salah Al-Din Faroughi said that his organization’s armed struggle with the Islamic Republic of Iran is not sectarian, but based on securing the rights of the Baluch people in Iran. “Jaish Al-Adl wants a federal Iran in which everyone’s right is respected and no discrimination is imposed”, Faroughi said.
Iranian officials have branded Jaish Al-Adl as a terrorist group, viewing it as an offshoot of Al-Qaeda and an example of Sunni militancy.