TEHRAN, Feb. 06 (Press Shia) – An international relations analyst has believed Pakistan has largely lost importance for the US with the latter possibly coming to a sort of détente with Shia Iran and with Afghanistan now not a field for the US to play politics.
Vahid Pourtajrischi of Mehr News International Service asked Mr. Kedar Keskar, an international relations analyst and an expert of Asian affairs about Pakistan’s position in the Asia in interplay between the US and China. He cast doubt on the authenticity of the claim made by the Sunni countries members of the Saudi Arabia’s Islamic Military Alliance (IMA) to fight terrorism as major members are Saudi allies which had been fostering notorious terrorist groups; however, Mr. Keskar believes that it was better than anything else that would never happen as a Muslim response to terrorism as a novelty in the region.
Keskar also envisioned a grim future for Iran-Pakistan’s much-vaunted Peace Pipeline largely because there had been a state of indecision in implementation of major projects in Pakistan, regardless of the government, either military or civilian, incumbent. Pakistan was largely under the influence of foreign powers especially big brother Saudi Arabia and thus the Peace Pipeline was largely delayed by the Pakistani side and garnered Iran’s reprimands and displeasure, he believed. Keskar also said that Iran would not join IMA spearheaded by Saudi Arabia since the majority of the members had been Saudi allies and hostile to Iranian presence in the region including in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq, among other things.
Pakistan has claimed recently that it will stop implementing Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline known as Peace Pipeline until full easing of US sanctions against Iran. India on the other hand, seeks to join Iran-Oman-India new pipeline project instead of the Peace Pipeline. How do you evaluate the future of Iran-Pakistan pipeline?
The future of Iran-Pakistan pipeline seems bleak for number of reasons. The first and very crucial factor is lack of quick decision-making and implementation on the part of Pakistan. The deadline to complete the project was December 2014, which is already lapsed. Iran has conveyed its displeasure to Pakistan for number of times over the issue of delay. The Pakistani establishment blames the so-called ‘external factors’ as the real culprits. It has some credible base too. But that can’t be blamed solely. Be it current Nawaz Sharif regime or Yousuf Raza Gillani’s tenure or any other civilian or military rule, lack of quick decision-making and implementation has remained the hallmark of Pakistani Government.
The next major reason is that Pakistan’s foreign policy is basically dictated by some big powers. Pakistan has no freedom of setting its own foreign policy. Earlier US and now China guides Pakistan in key issues. Similarly, Pakistan is heavily dependent on Saudi Arabia for financial aid and Wahabi Sunni mentorship. It is said that Saudi Arabia successfully pressurized Pakistan to delay and decay the Peace Pipeline with Iran and increased its own fuel supply to Pakistan. Isn’t it self-explanatory that India, which has developed strong ties with the US, could still manage to ink Chabahar port development project and undersea pipeline project with Iran soon after the nuclear deal Iran hit with world powers, but Pakistan, who is still the stooge of the US, could not do the same? It means that full removal of economic sanctions cannot be the real issue. Iran is now rapidly participating in global financial mainstream and the world is recognizing it. It will be better for Pakistan to understand this trend as well, especially because it is facing acute financial crisis. The other major issue that hinders the pipeline is the security concerns because of terrorists in Pakistan.
US State Department Spokesman Mark Toner has addressed Pakistan as the safe haven of terrorists, while Islamabad has always remained as one of the main US allies in the region. Could we assume Toner’s words as a turn in US-Pakistan relations?
Mark Toner called Pakistan as the ‘safe haven of terrorists’ on the background of the reports of disappearance of several Pakistani bloggers and activists. From last 30 years India is facing the wrath of Pak-sponsored terrorism. Western world started to take it seriously only after 9/11. But their approach regarding terrorists was selective in number of cases. It is beyond doubt that Pakistan has become a ‘terror hub.’ Existence of various terror groups such as Lashkar- e -Tyyaba, Jaish- e -Muhammad, Taliban, Al Qaida, ISIS, etc., on the soil of Pakistan challenges the economic development of Pakistan and the peace in the region. Pakistan is a country that possesses nuclear weapons which makes the situation more dangerous. It will be a nightmare for any peace-loving country if terrorists take control of a nuclear weapon.
As far as the turn in US-Pakistan relations is concerned, this process of change has begun way back but with slow pace. US has lost its interest in Afghanistan and has got involved in Syria-Iraq on one hand and in South China Sea on the other. Hence Pakistan has lost any strategic significance to US.
It’s not that there is shift in US policy towards Pakistan only. Long-standing American ally Saudi Arabia is also now getting close to China. The warm handshake of the US and Iran, and various other decisions of the US are viewed by Saudi Arabia as a challenge to Sunni supremacy. China’s ambitious One Belt, One Road (OBOR) strategic outline and its increasing engagement in Middle East make it a strong contender to act as Saudi Arabia’s next security guarantor. It’s not surprising that security cooperation between Saudi and China is increasing rapidly as Chinese arms sales to Saudi Arabia reached worth around $700mn from 2008 to 2011.
It can be observed that China and Sunni countries such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are coming closer, whereas the US and Shia Iran are trying to sort out their differences. I strongly believe that this process will not stop even under Trump administration, as Trump and Putin are friends and as Trump is openly anti-China and anti-Saudi.
Rahil Sharif has accepted to command Islamic Military Alliance just if Iran joins this alliance. It is too difficult for Saudi Arabia to accept this condition. Will Riyadh accept this condition?
Minister of Defense and Deputy-Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud announced the creation of Islamic Military Alliance (IMA) on 15th December 2015. Pakistan’s former Army Chief Gen. (now retd.) Rahil Sharif has been declared as Commander-in-chief of IMA. The IMA’s stated objective is to fight against terrorism. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are famous for their covert support to some of the notorious terror groups. On this background, these two nations are trying to display their anti-terror commitment. This is as funny and dubious as that of Xi Jinping championing globalization in Davos.
It’s already high time now for a fight against terrorism by Islamic nations themselves. This alliance can be considered as an act of better late than never. But expecting too much from this alliance will be a strategic innocence. Pakistan is trying to convince Iran that the 39-nation alliance is not targeting Tehran. Though the said objective is anti-terrorism, how can one neglect the fact that most of the members are Saudi allies? And how can one believe in the words of the perpetrators of the terrorism. Similarly the challenge of the terrorism is so grave and widespread throughout Middle-East that it is hardly possible to deploy the proposed IMA troops on every battlefield. In such case, it will be necessary to prioritize the missions and there will be differences of opinions on this issue. Saudi Arabia will clearly try to dominate the proceedings and the list of priority with the help of its own financial clout. How can any organization that excludes Shia Iran be considered as a truly accommodative, all-encompassing Islamic organization? But Saudi has up till now kept Iran away from IMA.
Pakistani defense analyst Lt. Gen. (retd.) Amjad Shoaib has claimed that Rahil Sharif has agreed to be the Commander-in-chief on three conditions: 1. Include Iran in alliance to give it an image of Muslim’s alliance instead of sectarian alliance. 2. He will not work under anyone’s command. 3. He sought mandate to work for the unity of the Muslim countries. It seems highly unlikely that Saudi Arabia will accept his any of the three conditions. Either Rahil Sharif will have to accept the post without any pre-condition or else Riyadh will find some new guy as the head of IMA. Even if Saudi Arabia decides to include Iran in IMA, it’s up to Iran to finalize whether to accept the invitation or not. Under IMA, Sharing the responsibilities and managing the burden will generate new tensions in the region. There can’t be two swords in one sheath.
Kedar Keskar is Assistant Professor and S.P College affiliated to University of Pune in India
Interview by: Vahid Pourtajrischi