Iranian foreign minister Amir-Abdollahian is in Pakistan today to herald the resumption of diplomatic channels and the return of ambassadors to each other’s capitals.
The two countries enjoy close political ties; however, for the better part of four decades since the Islamic Revolution in Tehran, they have fought a shadow war against each other.
There are numerous irregular small wars between the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Inter-Services-Intelligence (ISI) — from competition for control and influence in Afghanistan to overt Pakistan support for Azerbaijan to Pakistan military’s support for the Hariri family, Baluch insurgencies and Iran’s recruitment of Shiite fighters from Pakistan.
However, for a week, it seemed that the tit-for-tat air strikes between Iran and Pakistan following a clear Iranian escalation could draw the Pakistani military into the wider escalation unfolding in the Middle East.
From a friendly Shah to hostile revolutionaries
The Shah of Iran had been one of Pakistan’s foremost backers against a much larger India. Indeed, the Shah even threatened to attack India if it went beyond its remit when it came to attacking East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in 1971.
This is described in detail in the lucid account by the Shah’s chief courtier, Assadollah Alam. On the issue of Baluchistan, the Shah had provided jets and helicopters to assist against insurgents.
However, after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, Pakistan and Iran began a long battle for influence in Afghanistan over control of various warlords.
Before the emergence of the Taliban, Iran had already started to support Shiite groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A shadow war had started, which involved backing each other’s proxies across each other’s Baluch and Afghan frontiers.