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Opinion

November 27, 2017
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The order within the new order

Opinion

November 27, 2017

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“There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things,” said Machiavelli, who is known as one of the shrewdest diplomat of all times. Yet, the US is going against the very order that it helped achieve with other world powers after a decade of diplomacy on the Iran nuclear deal.
Has Donald Trump adopted the role that Nawaz Sharif or Benazir Bhutto assumed in the 1990s to revert policies pursued by their rivals (which, in Trump’s case, is Obama) or is it a calculated move to adjust a few more objectives while maintaining order? Even before the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed in Vienna, the American Machiavelli Henry Kissinger had raised questions on the verifiability of the constraints and their long-term impact on regional and global stability and Donald Trump had made it a campaign issue. It’s important to explore what the future of this deal holds for Pakistan.
Despite political bickering in the UN Security Council, it is unique that non-signatories, including Eastern European, North American and almost all Muslim countries are keeping mum while closely observing the situation. With the turmoil in the Middle East – especially in the countries of Iranian interest like Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Qatar and Lebanon – and recent threats emanating from Saudi Arabia, it’s highly unlikely that Tehran will succumb to pressure and agree to bring its defence programme under an extended JCPOA. Under the watchful eyes of the IAEA, Iran has limited its nuclear programme. However, its scientist has not stopped seeking knowledge to improve the programme if the deal is lost. In such a case, strong diplomacy will be needed by Islamabad as it has represented Iranian interests in Washington for over 40 years.
Pakistan is not part of the JCPOA. But as Iran’s neighbour, it may also have to adjust to the changing situation as Iran and Saudi Arabia, at this

critical moment, have yet again started trading barbs with each other. In this context, Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s three-day visit to Iran to meet military and civilian leadership was unprecedented. It was a visit to a country that was among the first to recognise Pakistan but later developed an on-and-off estranged relations with successive governments since the 1970s.
A few months before taking charge as head of the 39-nation military alliance of Muslim countries (minus Iraq, Syria and Iran) under the auspices of Saudi Arabia, the then COAS General Raheel Sharif had blatantly warned Iran against harbouring RAW on its soil for its activities – especially in Balochistan – and demanded that President Rouhani should make it clear to the Indian spy agency that they should stop such activities and allow Pakistan to achieve stability.
Rouhani had subsequently denied that this conversation had even happened. The situation escalated when, after the killing of 10 border guards, Major General Mohammad Baqeri, the head of the Iranian armed forces, warned that if the terrorist attacks continued, Tehran would hit alleged safe havens and cells within Pakistan. Notwithstanding the minor issues, Pakistan has withstood pressure from another ally by avoiding playing any role in Syria and Yemen. As Jalil Abbas Jilani, the former top diplomat to India, Brussels and Washington, once put it, “Pakistan is playing its card very carefully”.
So, the Bajwa-Baqeri talks helped to find ways to reduce security challenges and the Bajwa-Rouhani meeting enhanced the trust level. Both sides vowed that their soil should not be used against each other.
Following the footprints of the most extremist organisations, it is not unrealistic to assume that Daesh is finding safe havens in the lawless but strategically important border provinces of Afghanistan. Over the years, Iran, along with Russia, has cultivated ties with the Taliban to counter the threats emanating from Afghanistan. Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour, who was killed in Balochistan in 2016, had a Pakistani passport but didn’t receive the form of hospitality that he earned in Iran. What made him travel to Afghanistan via Pakistan and so become the target of the drone remains a mystery. But the incident has painted a clear picture that there are elements within Iran that support the insurgency.
To neutralise the common enemy, all the stakeholders – including Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, some of the Central Asian countries and China and Russia – will have to develop a coherent strategy. Beijing is in a far more fitting position to lead such an alliance as it is investing heavily in CPEC and Gwadar. Despite having a large trade volume with Tehran, Delhi is already under considerable pressure to step back, leaving further opportunities for China. If the Chabahar and Gwadar ports are both developed by China, not only will the 80 kilometres distance between them turn into a huge economic zone but some of Pakistan and Iran’s reservations may also be addressed.
How the One Belt One Road initiative will bypass US sanctions is a matter that remains to be seen. But bilateral economic relations in many other fields should not become hostage to this. Pakistan’s exports to Iran plunged to $318 million in 2015-16 from almost $1.3 billion, despite the $13 billion foreign investment after the JCPOA. Immense US pressure has affected energy-starved Pakistan and caused delays in laying its side of the gas pipeline. But is there any window for bilateral trade?
Pakistan’s arch-rival India, which is not only close to the US but also has strong relations with Israel, has a trade volume of $18 billion. Opening banking channels and softening the visa regime for traders can pave the way for cash flow between Tehran and Islamabad as well. Like every bread-earner looks for legal means to acquire more money and raise the living standard of his/her family, countries must also explore avenues to build bridges to strengthen the economy. While the US may force European countries to fall in line with its new approach to the JCPOA, our region should follow its own national interests.

The writer is a senior journalist associated with Geo News
Email: [email protected]

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