Many recent developments point towards a tight rope Pakistan will be walking that will require smart diplomacy- a quality rarely practiced.
Recently, Daniel Coats presented an assessment before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in US Congress on India-Pakistan relations. Coats began the portion on India-Pakistan relations by saying: “Relations between India and Pakistan remain tense following two major terrorist attacks in 2016 by militants crossing into India from Pakistan. They (Indo-Pak ties) might deteriorate further in 2017, especially in the event of another high-profile terrorist attack in India that New Delhi attributes to originating in or receiving assistance from Pakistan.”
“The emerging China Pakistan Economic Corridor will probably offer militants and terrorists additional targets,” Daniel Coats, director of National Intelligence, told lawmakers during a Congressional hearing. Coats was testifying before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence along with other top intelligence officials.” (Local Newspaper May 12, 2017) His prophecy rang true the very next day when 10 workers were killed and 2 injured in a gun attack while working on link roads that connect the outlying towns to the country’s $57-billion Chinese Belt and Road initiative as per reports.
Has Raheel Sharif taking command of Saudi-led military force further created a greater fear of confrontation with Iran rather than fighting terrorism?
Soon after the retired General took up his assignment, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made it clear that Iran is not to be part of this alliance. Preceding the decision came the comments of Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir Munich Security Conference Munich, Germany on 19 February 2017: “The Iranians do not believe in the principle of good neighbourliness or non-interference in the affairs of others. And this is manifested in their interference in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. The Iranians have disrespected international law by attacking embassies, assassinating diplomats, by planting terrorist cells in other countries, by harbouring and sheltering terrorists.” (Excerpt)
On May 8, local newspapers reported Iran has warned Pakistan of hitting bases within Pakistan in case of failure of government to handle the militants involved in so doing on its own.
The situation is delicate. Reuters reported: “Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said on that any struggle for influence between the Sunni Muslim kingdom and the revolutionary Shi’ite theocracy ought to take place “inside Iran, not in Saudi Arabia”. (May 4, 2017)
A couple of weeks ago, Saudi Arabia defence minister criticised the Iran government; the latter sent a letter to the United Nations Security Council and accused him of violating the UN Charter. In the letter, Saudi Arab was accused for its growing ambitions, stating “dangerous ambitions in the region and beyond.”
Ties between Riyadh and Tehran had a profound impact on the relationship between Islamabad and Tehran owing to Islamabad’s closeness with Riyadh.
Trump’s major reason apparently for choosing Saudi Arabia as the first place to visit followed by stopover in Israel is to discuss their stance on Iran’s approach towards growth of regional reach. Interestingly, US is near to closing an arms deal worth $100 billion with Saudi Arabia. The amount can even surpass $300 billion in one decade.
Emergence of Saudi Arab’s support of Wahabiism and efforts at making space in Pakistan and Afghanistan have led to creation of two distinct camps within Islam over the world-both vying for greater leverage. Both Iran and Saudi Arab have supported their groups within Pakistan particularly post 1999. Realistically speaking, with a falling graph of Saudi-Iran relationship, Pakistan’s closeness to Saudi-Arab places Pakistan in a very tight position. The biggest challenge to Pakistan is to balance between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Iran must be disturbed by Islamabad’s closeness to Riyadh. By the same coin, Islamabad must be perturbed by Tehran’s closeness to Delhi. “Because Pakistan thinks that India is using Afghan soil to support the Baloch nationalist insurgency in Pakistan’s Balochistan province and anti-Pakistan Taliban militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas, Iranian cooperation with India in Afghanistan could serve as a major irritant in Pakistani-Iranian ties.” (Excerpt from ‘An Analysis of emerging Pak-Iran Ties: Norwegian Peace Building Resource Centre’)
What we see happening in the world is that new alliances are being formed, there are commitments to forge new ties. Though Trump’s Mideast policies are not very clear yet, General Joseph Votel of US Central Command testified earlier this year before the Senate armed committee. General Volter stated, “That US needed to use “coercive diplomacy “towards Tehran and force a change in its regional policy.” (Brig. Shaukat Qadir, March 22, 2017)
Pakistan is fraught with ethnic and sectarian divide, terrorism, militancy, an upcoming CPEC project that is a soft target for militants. Pakistan must not make the fatal mistake of committing its troops on ground being the only prominent army in the coalition.
Our policy makers must also remember the geographical placement of Pakistan. With India, the border is roughly 2,912 kilometres long. Durand Line between Pakistan and Afghanistan is an unmonitored area; there are reasons to believe that Afghanistan is being used as strategic depth against Pakistan by her arch rival. The border between Pakistan and Iran is the shortest. God bless the over a one thousand kilometres of border with the Arabian Sea.
Can Pakistan afford adventurism in light of its geographical placement alone?