By Muhammad Suleman
Dec 31, 2013
24th November 2013 was a historic day in Middle Eastern politics as well as in world politics; it was the day when the P-5+1 countries and Iran finally struck a deal on the Iranian nuclear program that Iran would not enrich uranium from more than 5% and use it only for peaceful purposes. Dispute over this issue has now lasted about just over a decade between Iran and various major powers of the world. World thinkers and strategists have termed this deal a ‘win-win’ for both parties.
The six month ‘interim’ deal was agreed upon after detailed discussions, and Iran and the USA, who have respectively titled each other the “Great Satan” and “Axis of Evil” for a long time now, appear to be adopting the normalization route. The deal comes as a surprise for many, and has jolted Saudi Arabia and Israel – the traditional rivals of Iran. Many others have welcomed the deal, including Pakistan. A spokesperson from Pakistan’s Foreign Office said the deal was “an important development which should augur well for peace and security in our region and the world at large”.
The Iranian nuclear deal represents a change in regional politico-security dynamics, and has various implications for Pakistan. If successful, then its many pros and cons will have both long and short term impact on Pakistan, depending on how the scenario develops. Pakistan already has a nuclear rival in its neighborhood in the form of India, and having another nuclear neighbor may prove very difficult for Pakistan in the long term. From a security point of view, if the interim deal develops into a permanent agreement and Iran gets ready to surrender its nuclear program for weapons purposes, would Pakistan feel at ease.
The interim deal has also brought Pakistan back into standoff situation where should Iran continue work on its nuclear program, the USA and its allies – especially Saudi Arabia – (both countries with strong relations and military ties with Pakistan), may want to attack Iranian nuclear installations, in which situation the friendship between Pakistan, the USA and Saudi Arabia may aggravate Iran vis-à-vis its relations with Pakistan. Such a scenario would place Pakistan in a complicated and uncomfortable situation.
Following the deal, the environment has become conducive for the Pak-Iran gas pipeline. Pakistan was undertaking negotiations for gas pipeline with Iran in order to overcome its energy crisis. Pakistan can also take this opportunity to enhance its trade with Iran, boosting the economy of both countries.
Where this deal has its positive aspects, it may also have negative implications for Pakistan. NATO is going to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan in 2014. NATO supplies are mostly transferred via passages through Pakistan. Pakistan receives payment from the USA for use of these routes. However, there is increasing divergence between the two allies on issues relating to drones and terrorism (including allegations of Pakistan ‘sponsored’ terrorism by the US); they mistrust each other, resulting in a distancing process and misperceptions are growing within this gap. Recently, some political parties have also taken to blocking NATO supply routes, which is not a first as Pakistan has halted NATO supply in the past. Secondly, Pakistani routes are now also being deemed insecure for reliable supply transfers due to the presence of Taliban inside Pakistan. The US perceived this threat a long time ago and has been taking relevant measures to develop alternatives by making roads inside Afghanistan from their bases all the way to the Iranian border. The majority of the world, including Pakistan, perceived this development as part of an American plan to attack Iran, but this perception was proven incorrect when the USA and Iran struck a deal on November 24. The news of this deal was a complete surprise for the Pakistani establishment and strategists. It is now strongly believed that USA and NATO will withdraw their forces using the Iranian routes and Chabahar port. Iranian routes are better, more secure and travel duration is shorter from Afghanistan to Chabahar port, rather than using Pakistani routes.
With NATO supply routes passing through Pakistan, USA and NATO were perceived to be dependent on Pakistan; now if Iran provides a viable alternative route to the USA and NATO forces for withdrawal, they are likely to be far less dependent on Pakistan. Due to the severance of the dependency of USA and NATO countries from Pakistan, the country will have less space for maneuver in the international fore, and may face increasing pressure on terrorism and relevant issues.
Iran and Afghanistan are more influenced by India than Pakistan. Heavy Indian investment in construction, road building and military cooperation with these countries has kept Pakistan at a distance from its fellow Muslim neighborhood countries. Many roads leading from Chabahar port to central Afghanistan have been built by India. Following the deal, India has sent its team to complete work on the Chabahar port so that it may be used for transportation as soon as possible. As for the US regional policy towards South Asia, the USA gives greater preference to India over Pakistan, due primarily to the huge Indian economic market. Iran and Afghanistan do not have good relations with Pakistan due to the alleged terrorist camps operating from inside Pakistan against both Iran and Afghanistan. The arising nexuses amongst Pakistan’s oldest ‘enemy’ India, followed by the ‘rival’ Afghanistan and now another possible emerging ‘adversary’ in Iran – (India-Afghanistan-Iran or IAI) -and the strategic alliance between IAI may well be the next threat for Pakistan’s security.
The geo political and strategic value of Iran is significant for both USA and China. The US is interested in the containment of China, and Iran was the one country in the region where its boots were not present. After this deal however, the USA may now easily fill this gap and will be working actively to shrink Chinese influence in Iran. While the USA already has significant military influence in Pakistan, in the future the possible simultaneous presence of USA in Iran may create confusion for Pakistan in terms of who to support—its biggest friend and emerging world power China or the sole super power of the world, USA.
In the context of regional and world politics, the coming days are hard for Pakistan. Iran and USA are improving their relations and going forward for the development of a bilateral Chamber Of Commerce Agreement. Meanwhile, the new political and military leadership of Pakistan will have to face the above challenges due to this deal, along with many other international and domestic challenges like extremism and terrorism.