The Arab Summit: Pakistan- Iran ties

Spearhead Analysis – 01.06.2017

By Hira A. Shafi
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

The month of May brought forth certain defining moments. The US-Arab Summit certainly tops that list. Apart from committing to unitedly combating terrorism, the summit also seems to have consolidated certain regional fault lines, by vociferously discussing Iran centric threats– this has led many to foresee a possibly bleak future for Middle Eastern stability; because essentially without a constructive dialogue process involving the Arabs, Iranians and Israelis – the prospects of Middle Eastern peace and stability remain dubious.

Pakistan- which is perhaps evaluating its final stance in relation to this brewing Arab-alliance vision; naturally found itself stuck between a rock and a hard place–post summit.

As it was believed that one of the critical conditions laid by Pakistan prior to sending the former COAS and assessing the scope of its participation in the alliance- was that it would refrain from engaging in any front against Iran and would prefer assuming the role of a mediator to help bring about regional stability. However, based on the vibes exhumed during the summit– which  were further supported by mega arms deals; many believe that cold water may have been spilled on Pakistani aspirations–for now.

Iranian Pakistani Journey:

The Pakistan-Iran ties have not been a walk in the park either; the bilateral ties have witnessed their fair share of fluctuations. The 2003 Iranian defence Pact with India , pinched Pakistan. Likelihood  of a  Delhi-Kabul-Tehran nexus has naturally been a point of concern ; the recent cases of Uzair Baloch and Yadav have perhaps only sparked up those concerns locally. But, wary of adverse consequences of regional unrest; Pakistan on its part- has continued to work out issues with Iran.

Infact,  just a few months back, the information space was dominated by the talks of stronger Iran-Pakistan ties. However, this period of love witnessed a degree of plague when the official news of the chief’s departure began to surface. Though Pakistan claims, it had repeatedly reassured the Iranian ambassador  that it would not engage in anything that would threaten Iranian integrity but  an almost instant ‘disapproval’ of the chief’s departure emanated on Iranian media and talks of any such commitments were more or less denied.

After a span of few days, the killing of 10 Iranian border guards created another source of tension between the neighbours; soon after , the head of Iranian armed forces issued a threat to Pakistan.  But, It is at this point, where it becomes equally crucial to view some recent Iranian actions under two broad prisms 1. Internal Iranian political tensions 2. Backlashes of Pakistani overtures to the Arab world.

An oversimplified description of Iran suggests that it is divided between hardliners and moderates, and embroiled in its own set of internal political tensions. At the time when angry rhetoric was spelled against Pakistan– Iran was bracing itself for another political transition period, it is thus imperative to keep in view the differences in posture of the moderates and the hardliners towards Pakistan– while threats were issued at one end;  following the incident –Zarif  visited Pakistan , committed to Pak-Iran ties and a hotline contact was restored.

Furthermore, a few days later- Pakistani and Iranian officials signed an agreement in Taftan to coordinate closely on border management.

However, as Rouhani got re- elected on 19th May; the following day Pakistan embarked on its journey to the Arab Summit ; since then– two attacks have been initiated by Iran across the Pakistan’s Baluchistan region. Even now, some moderate voices in Iran, seem to be sweeping these incidents under the rug and instead choose to discuss the scope of enhanced Iran-Pakistan ties. Though there are talks of the COAS planning to visit Iran soon , in order to iron out various differences. Iran on its part also needs to refrain from such fluctuating actions and work towards building a long term mutually beneficial relation with Pakistan.

Pakistan in the Middle of Iran and Saudi tensions:

Lately, an astounding level of aggressive statements have been voiced by both Iran and Saudi Arabia– both seem to be slowly distancing themselves from bounds of proper etiquette and have fiercely been threatening one another’s territorial integrity alongside criticizing respective systems of rule, religious ideologies  and other cultural beliefs.

Under such circumstances, Pakistan — which is essentially a blend of various cultures, beliefs etc cannot exclusively side with one contender due to possibilities of  adverse national implications. It is however, important for Pakistan to maintain good ties with both these nations. Therefore, Pakistan should ideally, draw and spell out its own red lines. The Saudi’s on their part need to respect Pakistan’s limits and try to focus on Pakistani suggestions for Middle Eastern peace via dialogue; and so should Iran– furthermore, as someone recently pointed out a rather thought provoking point in regards to a Pakistani Chief possibly heading the ‘Islamic alliance’ , Iran too needs to realize the positive impacts of a professional soldier who envisions peace and stability, instead of an alternative hardliner holding its reigns.

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