• By: Ali Inan

Two decades ago, US President Bush presented a State of the Union speech that quickly garnered significant controversy in the United States. At its essence, the address featured brief condemnations of the aggressive actions and human rights violations committed by Iran, North Korea, and Iraq.

He said, “States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.” It is after two decades of the axis of evil speech that Iran has carried missile strikes against its neighbours including Pakistan, the then ally of the United States. Within 24 hours, Iran executed drone and missile strikes on targets in Syria, Iraq, and Pakistan. Remarkably, Iran openly admitted its responsibility for these attacks, sparking anger from neighbouring nations. These recent events have escalated concerns about the potential for a broader conflict in the Middle East, especially as the Gaza war continues.

Following the attack on the northern semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq on Monday night, which resulted in the death of four civilians and injuries to at least six, Baghdad recalled its ambassador to Iran. Tehran claimed to target an Israeli intelligence centre near the U.S. consulate in the capital of the Kurdistan region, Erbil. However, Iraqi Kurdish Prime Minister rejected this claim, labelling it as a “crime against the Kurdish people.” Iraq’s Foreign Ministry deemed the attacks a “violation of international law” and announced its intention to file a complaint with the U.N. Security Council. French Foreign Ministry also condemned Iran for “contributing to the escalation of regional tensions.”

Iranian Foreign Minister, defending his country’s actions at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, asserted that the strikes by Iranian forces were aligned with combating terrorism and legitimate self-defence. He emphasized Iran’s commitment to securing its national interests with any other country, expressing no reservations in this regard. Furthermore, Tehran conducted airstrikes on what it claimed to be Islamic State targets in northern Syria simultaneously with its attacks on Iraq. Subsequently, it directed its focus toward the headquarters of a Sunni armed group situated in Balochistan, near the Iran-Pakistan border.

Pakistan and Iran are on the brink of a diplomatic rift following this missile strike, resulting in the tragic death of two children and injuries to three others on Tuesday night. In response, Pakistan condemned the attack and took swift measures, recalling its ambassador from Tehran and preventing Iran’s envoy to Islamabad. The tension escalated as Islamabad accused Iran of breaching Pakistani airspace, while Iranian state media reported that the missiles were aimed at two bases associated with the armed group Jaish al-Adl.

Although Islamabad’s language suggests an escalating crisis triggered by the Iranian attacks, the reality is that the two nations have often grappled with tensions along their 900-kilometer (559-mile) volatile border. Since at least 2013, Jaish al-Adl has been launching attacks against Iranian border guards, resulting in casualties. Recently, in December 2023, Jaish al-Adl claimed responsibility for attacking a police station in Rask, Iran, resulting in the deaths of 11 Iranian security personnel. Pakistan condemned the attack. Similarly, in June 2023, armed “terrorists” killed two Pakistani soldiers at a checkpoint in the Singwan area. Pakistan contacted Iranian authorities to prevent the escape of the attackers into Iran. In April 2023, Attackers from Iran killed four Pakistani border patrol soldiers in the Jalgai sector of Kech district, and in January 2023, Pakistan had condemned the killing of four security officials along the border with Iran and urged Iran to investigate the matter, and the Iranian embassy in Islamabad condemned the attack.

Will Pakistan see it through a similar lens of axis of evil? How would the world react to it today in the backdrop of the Middle East Crisis? The axis of evil speech, which was a haunting outcome of the trauma of the 9/11 attacks on twin towers, had serious repercussions with regressive consequences for both the United States and the world community. Pakistan can ill afford it, but the dilemma is that Pakistan cannot ignore it because the missile strike might not even be the real challenge. The real challenge is the haunting memory of being alleged by its south-western neighbour for the presence of a terrorist group because it raises serious questions for the country to find answers within its own territory. Simultaneously, the world community cannot allow the Iranian military aspirations to grow because it will further ignite the conflict in the region. The axis of evil might not be the same as defined by George W Bush two decades ago, but the real axis of evil is the increasing conflict in the region and if the regional players, and the global powers fail to bring an end to violence and conflict than this menacing axis of evil could strike all of us and descend the entire region into anarchy.

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