A historic nuclear deal between Iran and P5+1 has been signed. The 159-page document along with its five annexes contains sets of restrictions, checks and inspections by various international agencies and watchdogs to force Iran to abide by the pledges it made to end sanctions. The Iranian Islamic revolution, its efforts to dominate the region through the export of its revolution and its hawkish attitude both moral and physical towards the US and the regional rivals, along with its efforts to develop nuclear weapons, were all perceived as a threat to world peace and invited the sanctions in the first place. These economic and military sanctions bit Iran seriously in the past two decades. Sanctions, which started with US opposing the Iranian revolution, were made an international issue once United Nations imposed its own sanctions in 2006 effectively isolating Iran due to its activities towards high enrichment of Uranium.

For Iran probably, it had made a choice to follow nuclear path instead of revoking the Islamic revolution to rid itself of both economic and military sanctions. Iran has traded a win-win situation in the end. Iran keeps the ideological basis of its revolution intact as well as gets international recognition of its nuclear program. The scale of its uranium enrichment is not accurately known neither its possession of nuclear weapon but the deal is perceived as a tacit approval of the same. The Iranian internal power struggle has opened a new feud between spiritual head Ayatollah AliKhamenei and President Hassan Rouhani. Khamenei disapproval was evident from his delayed response. Whereas Rouhani praised the agreement, Ayatollah’s reticence sent a message to the hardliners to attack the agreement. A question was raised that who should ratify the agreement, the Majlis or the National Security Council headed by the President himself. Hardliners obviously are opting for the Majlis. Fars News Agency reported that the Majlis threatened to reject the agreement’s provision on ballistic missiles, which call for an international embargo on missile technology to be extended for eight years. A significant, last-minute concession by the U.S. leaving aside the internal power struggle in Iran while sidelining its nuclear program for at least fifteen more years is likely continue its regional belligerence towards its rivals Sunni states in the gulf and arch rival KSA.

Saudis have been watching the developments with extreme caution and have been showing their annoyance over the talks from the start. In a post sanctions scenario an economically prosperous Iran with least transparent possible military dimension of its nuclear program is perceived as a grave threat to the Kingdom and other Sunni Muslim states in times to come.

Since 2006 the Saudi have been laying the groundwork for their own civilian nuclear program with no possible military dimension. The evolving situation might force them to reconsider their options especially in view of US and UK withdrawal from the Middle East and their heavy reliance on remote control aerial war strategy. Viewing the nature of UN sanctions against Iran, the late King Abdullah decided to pursue a comprehensive national civil nuclear program and established the King Abdullah Atomic Energy City (KACARE) to centralize all nuclear related research in Saudi Arabia. At KACARE, Saudi nuclear scientists have already carried out the strategic planning on a nuclear program, and plans are in place to spend around $80 billion over the next twenty years to build about sixteen nuclear power reactors. The Saudis have been the primary leader in pushing for a Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Free Zone in the Middle East. It has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, and the Chemical Weapons Convention. But this may not stop them to opt for possible military dimensions to their civilian nuclear program. They need to be taken seriously as the plans for an indigenous program capable of using established methods of producing plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU) are already in place, and several Saudi nuclear scientists have earned their PhD’s researching new forms of civil nuclear technology. In short, foundational work is well underway at KACARE to realize the three essentials to producing HEU: a nuclear fuel fabrication supply chain, the manufacture of centrifuges and related technologies, and the storage of fuel and centrifuges in various stages of usability.

Kingdom can also seek Pakistani technical cooperation in this field as reward of their alleged financing of the Pakistani program in the past decades. There were rumors during the recent Yemen crisis that Saudis had already acquired tactical nuclear weapons from Pakistan and means of delivery in the form of JF -17 aircrafts flown by the PAF pilots. In view of enhanced Saudi nuclear know how, any Pakistani assistance sought and provided will help the kingdom to achieve quick nuclearization. Adding possible military dimension to the kingdom’s nuclear program can have serious military and security implications for the region and can change the geopolitics of the Gulf and South Asia.

The evolving situation in the wake of nuclear deal and post sanctions Iran will pose new security challenges to Pakistan. Pakistan had been a battleground for both Saudi and Iranian proxies fighting each other using a sectarian turf. The cost for Pakistan was very high in terms of loss of life and political and economic instability. With Iran’s strong economy and its hardliners taking the driving seat the proxies may come back. The grounds for such an eventuality are more obvious especially once the Islamic State (Daesh) is also making its presence felt in the region? How Saudis will react is not difficult to predict.

Governance issues and poor economic health of the Pakistan economy can provide the required grounds as was the case in the past. Rampant poverty, illiteracy and availability of safe havens in FATA have been acting as fertile grounds for sectarian themes to grow and multiply. This time Daesh who is different in character to the Al-Qaeda, will be even more difficult to control. A new set of challenges are popping up fast. Ongoing Pakistan Army operation in FATA is consuming both human and material resources of our depleting economy at a fast pace. This cannot be allowed to continue for an unlimited time. With no signs of economic recovery in the near future and no improvement expected in the governance areas the future looks disturbing if not bleak. Any future Pakistani nuclear cooperation with Saudis with possible military dimensions will set the alarm bells ringing for our regional rivals and international community and may further destabilize the economy and political stability. Pakistan need a fresh look at its foreign policy options in view of emerging realities.