India has occupied critical strategic space on Pakistan’s western flank in Afghanistan and Iran to launch its proxies/terrorists such as the IS, TTP, Jamaat ur Ahraar, BRA, BLA etc into Pakistan. It does so with callous abandon - ostensibly with the host Governments’ knowledge and even connivance in Afghanistan’s case!

In harmony with their prong targeting Pakistan from Afghanistan they have one emanating from the Chahbahar-Zahidan axis in Iran, too. This prong targets Balochistan, the Mekran Coast in particular Gwadar, Karachi and now the CPEC. RAW has established a cell with a budget of over US $ 300 million for this express purpose. The Indian efforts from the Chahbahar-Zahidan axis were epitomised by the capture of Kulbushan Yadav, the Indian spymaster and grand terrorist who operated from Chahbahar. He exploited Baloch separatist sentiments amongst other factors to wage a war against Pakistan through gross subversion, subterfuge, sabotage, espionage and rank terrorism.

Here too, like the Af-Pak relationship, the Indians have adroitly exploited the numerous irritants and fault lines that persist in the Pak-Iran relationship to their strategic advantage.

Iran and Pakistan can easily manage their bilateral differences, particularly those concerning cross Pak-Iran border terrorist (Jundullah, Jaesh ul Adl) and other illegal activities. It is the regional scenario that needs skillful handling. The interplay of hostile intelligence agencies such as CIA, Mossad and RAW in these areas is a matter of mutual concern. The bottom line however is Pakistan’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and Iran’s with India and the negativity generated by these two relationships on their bilateral ties and presumed national interests.

The Iranians are particularly peeved at Pakistan joining the Islamic Military Alliance against Terrorism (IMAT) - a US backed and Saudi Arabia sponsored initiative. General Raheel Sharif will be commanding the 41 nation military alliance’s forces. It is generally perceived to be an anti-Iran bloc, an Arab NATO of sorts designed primarily to stamp out Iran’s influence in the region although the declared aim of the alliance is to fight terrorism. Iran is termed as a state sponsor of terrorism by the Arabs and most of the US-led West. By implication this military alliance is acquiring sectarian connotations splitting and defining the Islamic world into two distinct blocs - Sunni and Shiite. This effect is further accentuated in countries like Pakistan with sizeable populations of both sects!

On the other hand Pakistan has a genuine grouse against Iran’s 2003 Defense Pact with India which clearly allows India the use of Iranian bases and ports against Pakistan in the event of an Indo-Pak war! This translates into Pakistan facing a two front war (a three front war if we bring Afghanistan into the equation) from the very outset seriously diluting its war efforts. Further, this acquires immense strategic connotations once we consider all possible and probable uses of these bases by India. Pakistan will be well within its right to presume that India might want to store some of its nuclear assets on these bases to secure its second strike capability against Pakistan in case of war. This would complicate matters immeasurably. Will these bases thus become genuine targets for Pakistan’s Armed Forces and consequently force Iran into the conflict on India’s side; and expand the theater of war to the region and even beyond? Can or will Iran allow India to use these bases as part of their nuclear and second strike plans and operations? And surely the Iranians know that the nukes or other weapons/munitions from these bases will kill Pakistanis, indiscriminately!

It is in this rather unstable, uncertain, critical, sensitive and high strung strategic environment that we find India (and RAW) moving in to brew trouble for all and sundry!

Pakistan and Iran must act decisively to remove their bilateral differences immediately without outside, read Indian or Saudi, influence.

At the regional level Pakistan needs to move decisively to counter this two pronged deep exterior maneuver by India on its western front. India must be denied this strategic space (Iranian and Afghan territories) to spread terror and sabotage in Pakistan. Iran and Afghanistan must be engaged proactively for this very purpose without prejudice to Pakistan’s counter actions against this Indian onslaught from the West. Pakistan’s joining the IMAT and Iran’s Defense Pact with India are both mutually exclusive and mutually destructive. However, the IMAT just does not appear to have the wherewithal or the collective political will to be employed in either the politically sensitive areas like Kashmir and Palestine or in the terrorist infested areas like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria or even Yemen! Its employment against Iran will require the concurrence of at least 41 countries and is thus most unlikely. Nevertheless, its anti Iran demeanor will create further chasms in the already fractured body politic of the Islamic world and is likely to splinter it further on sectarian alignments. Pakistan must convince Iran that it will not act against its national interests in any form whatsoever while Iran must clarify the objectives, terms and conditions of the Indo-Iran Defense Pact of 2003 and ensure that its territory is never used against Pakistan. Pakistan must not allow any activities by Jaesh ul Adl or any other hostile intelligence agencies against Iran from its territories and Iran should block and neutralize the Chahbahar-Zahidan axis being used against Pakistan. Both must mutually secure their vital national interests - a win-win situation!

China is set to invest over US $ 100 billion in Iran and Pakistan. Clearly it will not allow any external force to threaten this investment. Pakistan and Iran must extract maximum benefits from these Chinese investments in their respective economies. Furthermore, Gwadar and Chahbahar must work in harmony to reinforce each other’s capabilities and capacities.

Pakistan and Iran must ensure a mutually beneficial bilateral relationship. Pakistan must secure its western flank regardless of regional/extra regional machinations, influences and priorities. Both must recognise, in particular, the deviousness of Indian policies in the region and must block out this Chanakyan maneuver where India exploits Pak- Iran differences to its own strategic advantage and to their mutual detriment!