Iran is just coming out of one of the worst ordeals of its history. For decades it remained under debilitating international isolation and enormous economic sanctions for its nuclear program. Through a ruthless application of classic coercive diplomacy the P5+1forced it to renounce what might still be a very vital national interest for it - the acquisition of a nuclear weapon state status!
Iran’s unshackling will, concomitantly, have ripple effects in many dimensions at the regional and global levels. It has some serious lessons, with potentially devastating implications, for Pakistan as well.
What have the Iranians achieved for their dogged efforts to safeguard and retain their nuclear program? They have had to essentially dismantle it with all future nuclear weapon ambitions ostensibly blocked. Furthermore, they now stand committed to intrusive inspections by the UN and its agencies of all nuclear abilities and facilities for years to come. This will lead to a critical loss of tangible power, prestige, and influence within the region and in the world at large. It has brought the Saudi Arabia-Iran rivalry back to somewhat of an even keel again.
They still remain at loggerheads for regional leadership, supremacy and influence. Their rivalry is splitting the already badly divided Islamic world further into hostile sectarian groupings.
The US and its coterie of western allies including Israel may congratulate themselves for neutralizing possibly the most potent threat to their collective interests in the region. With an audacious application of the destructive and disruptive Arab Spring Initiative and its Off Shore Balancing Strategy the US has literally neutralized all regional threats to Israel. Israel is the only island of relative stability and peace in the entire ME while the Islamic world around it implodes and literally self-destructs. Israel, despite Benjamin Netanyahu’s incomprehensible rhetoric and incessant wailing, is clearly the biggest beneficiary of this international initiative. With Iran’s nuclear program no longer viable, Israel’s position as the singular, most dominant military and political force in the ME stands reassured. This effectively leaves Israel unchallenged as the sole nuclear weapons state in the ME with unfettered freedom of action. Its strategic reach covers the region and beyond without any worthwhile check or balance. Its political will and audacity to use all types of force give it an overwhelming superiority over all its potential adversaries. This makes for a very unstable, skewed and imbalanced political landscape in the ME. The fate of Iran’s nuclear program will also dampen the nuclear ambitions, if any, of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey et al. However, Saudi Arabia is set to introduce another factor in regional politics by seeking extra regional assurances for its territorial integrity, sovereignty and defense in future conventional and nuclear war environments!
With Iran effectively neutralized, Israel ought to feel reasonably secure. But does it? Is Muslim Pakistan the next nuclear state in its and its benefactors’ crosshairs? Pakistan is though made of sterner stuff. Its nuclear program is clearly India specific. It gives it a tangible sense of security against aggression from its large and increasingly belligerent eastern neighbor. It also feels compelled to extend its strategic reach beyond the Nicobar and Andaman Islands, which may have serious connotations when viewed in the larger context of the ME as well. This may create unnecessary pressures for Pakistan and unwarranted concerns in international circles.
The viability and security of Pakistan’s nuclear program from hostile efforts to undo it is generally assured. It is totally self- sustaining and so far developed that expecting it to be dismantled at this stage is preposterous and impracticable. However, it still faces direct and indirect threats. Pakistan’s nuclear assets are in no real danger from the terrorists as they are neither in a position to take over the Government or gain access to nuclear materials directly or through subterfuge. Furthermore, if any foolhardy attempt by foreign military forces to destroy or gain physical control of these assets were made Pakistan’s response would be swift and severe targeting hostile interests within the region as well.
Then again, the US-led West could get a UNSC resolution passed (a la Iraq!), which may claim that Pakistan’s nuclear assets were unsafe and that terrorists could get a hold of them. It could further demand that Pakistan either cap, roll back and dismantle its nuclear program itself under UN oversight or let an international commission designated by it do so. Pakistan would be least likely to acquiesce, regardless of the costs thereof! The roles of China and Russia in the UNSC would thus acquire enormous importance for Pakistan.
On the other hand the experience of the P5+1 with Iran could also give it ideas for dealing with Pakistan and its nuclear program similarly. Iran’s vulnerability was created and exacerbated through international isolation and economic sanctions. Pakistan’s vulnerabilities lie in a fickle minded and timid government, bad governance and its tottering economy. At the least, the international community could ask Pakistan to unilaterally place its nuclear assets under UN or international oversight and control or like Iran face international isolation and economic sanctions. This is a contingency that Pakistan must guard against.
Pakistan needs to revamp its economy. The current downturn in oil prices is a God sent opportunity for Pakistan to somehow turn things around. However, the non implementation of the NAP, the debilitating energy crisis, the unrelenting accumulation of domestic and international debts, the rampant corruption and economic mismanagement, the illogical priorities for infrastructure projects, the nepotism, favoritism and cronyism, the widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots, terrorism and its effects, the blatant self interest et al are all adding to its gross vulnerabilities. These issues need to be addressed and rectified immediately.
Pakistan can ill afford to wallow around in such a vulnerable situation for too long. It must guard against making its future economic development hostage to any one power’s largesse or the benevolence of some IFIs. Pakistan and its economy need skilled stewardship, direction and results, now, lest its vulnerabilities provide unbearable leverages to global players!