In the new game of thrones, countries with the control of the Indian Ocean would have the power to influence the world order. China is poised to enhance its strategic presence in the Indian Ocean, using communication lines at the Gwadar port, for the export of Chinese products across the Middle East and Europe. With lesser time and reduced cost of transportation, the Chinese products would sell at competitive rates. Even though Chabahar port would reduce Afghanistan’s dependence on Pakistan in trade, the development of the port is of more significance to India than Afghanistan. Goods and services exported to Afghanistan using the Iranian water, for a number of years can never be paid-up by the Afghan government. It would either remain alms and aids mechanism or least India’s largesse to strengthen its foothold in Afghanistan that would take up the former to the Central Asian states while keeping Pakistan under pressure. All US efforts are now concentrated on a strategy to push back Iran and Pakistan in a bid to make both the countries volatile in their regions. Any conflict with Iran would keep the temperature high in the Middle East. Any tension and uncertainty in Pakistan can make the Chinese dream of a One-Belt-One-Road initiative that includes the establishment of Gwadar, an expensive and security risk project. In the given scenario what options do Pakistan and Iran have to keep the US from playing an exploitative game in the region? Perhaps, the same that the US has been using against both: a pushback strategy. Time is ripe for Pakistan; Iran has been on this for years to neutralize the US influence both in real and perceptually.
Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan’s Chief of the Army Staff, visited Iran last week, which seems like an effort to relieve anxiety that has crept into the relations of the two countries because of tensions on border, Kulbhushan Jadhav incident and the formation of Islamic Military Alliance headed by Pakistan’s former chief of army staff General (r) Raheel Sharif. The visit assumes another importance when seen from the development taking place in Saudi Arabia (SA) in the backdrop of a new warming up between the US and SA against Iran, US hostility against Iran’s nuclear programme and Yemen’s patience running out on Saudi-led coalition’s bombing since March 2015. Yemen fired a missile across Saudi Arabia’s capital city Riyadh on November 4. Though the missile was prevented from hitting the target. It nevertheless left a clear and loud message that Yemen can strike SA inside its cities. Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman has accused Iran of giving the missile to the Yemeni rebels. It was termed as “direct military aggression,” against the Kingdom. Iran not only refuted this claim but also has warned SA against putting all his eggs in the US basket saying, “If you think Iran is not your friend and that the US and the Zionist regime (Israel) are, you are making a strategic and analytical mistake. Trump was quick to support SA in its accusation against Iran and had asked the United Nations to inquire into the origin of rebel’s ballistic capabilities.
So far Pakistan has been resisting the temptation to follow its old practice of getting involved in others’ wars to gain financial assistance to cover the budget deficit that has become chronic over the years because of bad governance. The visit of the army chief to Iran is part of the mandate Pakistan has bestowed onto itself of coming out clean from the Middle East crisis. Unless we are mindful, Pakistan’s economic conditions, always on edge, could push us into the Saudi generated vortex. Pakistan has signed three different short-term loan agreements worth $700 million with the Islamic Development Bank. Saudi Arabia has a shareholding of 23.5 per cent in the bank. Already we have availed half of the loan for oil imports from the Kingdom. Pakistan’s economic indicators at the current account and foreign reserves front are not promising. How would the country resist turning to the old allies for financial support is yet to be seen, especially when China does not believe in bailing out its friends. It is going to be the litmus test for Pakistan in its strategy to pushback the US. Already in our appeasement towards the US, we have made unreasonable compromises. In an independent environment, Pakistan-Iran relations on the back of Iran-Pakistan pipeline initiative would have grown manifolds. Pakistan’s effort to consolidate relations with Iran must include the development of a mechanism whereby Chabahar and Gwadar complement one another.
Balochistan is the place that would decide the future course of the relation between Iran and Pakistan. For years, both Saudi Arabia and Iran have been funding their proxies in Balochistan. It has been reported that a Sunni Muslim ultra-conservative group has been funded heavily by Saudi Arabia. A Saudi think-tank, supported by the Crown Prince MBS, published a blueprint for the support of the Baloch and called for “immediate countermeasures,” against Iran. Pakistan should not allow its part of Balochistan for proxy wars either by the Shia or Sunni militants. All Saudi funding, aimed at creating sectarian divide should be blocked forthwith. If successful in purging its soil of every type of proxies, Pakistan’s strategy to push back US influence would roll out eventually.