Iran Rejects Saudi Alliance, Now Border Heating Up. Coincidence?

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Security situation on the border with Iran is heating up. Ten Iranian border guards have been killed by militants from Pakistan side and Iranian government has issued a statement declaring that “the Pakistani government bears the ultimate responsibility of the attack”. This accusation can be understood in two ways: Either we do not control these areas as much as we claim to, or we do control these areas and the state is pursuing some strategy of using militant proxies to annoy Iran.

The possibility that we do not really have control of these areas is probably true. Despite media events showcasing surrender of hundreds of Baloch insurgents at a time, attacks against FC soldiers continue and jihadi literature is being openly distributed by state-approved militant groups posing as ‘relief’ organisations in areas controlled by Army. The spread of such extremist ideology is impossible to control, and Army’s tight controls on reporting from these areas means no one can be sure what is the actual security situation.

However there is another possibility, which is that the border attacks have heated up as a response to Iran’s rejection of Saudi military alliance led by ex-COAS Gen Raheel Sharif. FO has been trying to bring Iran on board with the Saudi military alliance despite their belief that there is a ‘hidden agenda‘ in the scheme. Foreign Office officials have rejected Iran’s claims, saying that the alliance is for good of all Muslims and is not against any country but terrorism. Could these attacks be orchestrated to pressurize Iran into joining the alliance? Or are certain quarters taking a page out of an old play book to send a warning about what can happen if preferred policies are not accepted?

Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua said last week that ‘We have no border issues with Iran and our border with Iran is friendly’. Iran’s Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan has given a different view, warning that ‘we reserve the right to give a firm response to such acts of terror’.

We are already facing rising tension with Afghanistan and India. We cannot afford to open another front against Iran also.

Syria shows military alliances are not so simple

US fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria’s Shayrat Airfield in the first major military operation ordered by Donald Trump. In addition to the serious consequences of deteriorating situation in Syria, this attack highlights the reality that international alliances are not as simple today as they were during the bi-polar Cold War when one was aligned with either American or Soviet side. For Pakistan, the Syrian crisis could have serious consequences, including for our involvement in the controversial Islamic Military Alliance.

One of the greatest concerns about involvement in the Saudi-led military alliance was whether Saudi and Iran would be able to overcome differences and adopt a common policy. Members of the Islamic Military Alliance supporting the attack include Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, and Bahrain. However, Iran has condemned the attack as “dangerous, destructive and violates the principles of international law.”

Russia has also opposed the American missile strike, while China has stayed neutral. The question facing Pakistan now is, how do we fit this reality into our new alliances? Do we support American intervention along with Saudi and Turkey and other Islamic nations? Or do we oppose the American aggression along with Iran and Russia? Or do we try to sit on the sidelines along with China? Is that even an option?

Unfortunately, military alliances are not as simple as slogans about “all weather friendships.” Each nation is going to do what is in its best interest, and unless we are going to be a vassal state who follows a lead whether right or wrong then we also must determine what is in our own interest instead of making decisions based purely on convenient alliances and imagined shared ideologies.

Snakes and Ladders

snakesandladdersThere is a new game being played. Everything that we thought we knew is now wrong. It is different players and different rules now. Old allies are now our enemies, and old enemies are still our enemies too. This is the claim of the Munir Akram in his latest analysis of our national security, and it is probably the most important analysis to understand where we are going. I say this not because I am a huge admirer of Munir Akram, but because I was told it was important by Army itself.

Sometimes we are given signs in the streets. Yesterday we were given a sign on Twitter. Either way, we must read the signs to know where we are headed. So where has this latest sign pointed us? First let us understand who are the players.

According to the latest ISPR-approved analysis, our enemies are now India, Iran, Afghanistan, and the US. Our allies are China, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. One might think this is not a good sign to have three of our neighbors as enemies, but then one sees our friends and everything starts to balance out. One problem, though. China is an atheist country that even bans fasting in Ramazan. Saudi Arabia funds radical madrassehs in Pakistan. What will happen if jihadi militants trained in Pakistan keep doing attacks in China? And what about the problem of radicalism in Turkey? How will this affect our strategic thinking if two-thirds of our allies are projecting radicalism?

On the other side of the table are sitting Iran, India, and Afghanistan who have been working together towards economic and diplomatic improvements. The most obvious result of this has been the new agreement on Chabahar. Dr Haider Shah explained this in his piece.

While Pakistan has relied heavily on its strategic assets like the Haqqani network to remain a key player in the Afghan game, India has been enhancing its influence by forging stronger economic ties with the war-battered country. As Pakistan has not facilitated Indo-Afghan trade by extending the transit land route to India, India aims to use the new link for a maritime route to enter Afghanistan. In times of estranged relations, the US may also like to use this route thus minimising its reliance on Pakistan.

The project is important for Iran as well. After years of economic sanctions the reformist government wants to play a more active role in the world affairs. Without economic revival such a vision is however not achievable. The Iranian hardliners, on the other hand, want to see President Hassan Rouhani fail in his attempts, as the state of despondency is always beneficial for radical elements. Chabahar is the first sign of international investment coming to Iran. Tehran is opening itself up to the world.

Our new enemies are all working together to build each other up, while our new allies all have very different priorities based on what is good for themselves alone, not the greater good of all. In this new game we are playing, those we are calling our enemies are quickly climbing ladders. We should beware that we do not find ourselves landing on snakes.

Will our games lose both Saudi Arabia and Iran?

Pakistan Army Saudi Arabia

Tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran have placed Pakistan in a precarious position during at a time when there is little room for error in strategic discourse. Our unique geostrategic location combined with our responsibility of having the most powerful Muslim military immediately draws us into many regional and even global conflicts. Our historic relations with Saudi and Iran, two Muslim countries, also affects our interests. Unfortunately, just when rational and effectively diplomacy is called for, what our political and military leaders are delivering is anything but. Rather what we are seeing are the same old games being played.

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Failed Foreign Policy Responsible For Border Tensions

Iranian mortar shells fired into PakistanPakistan is currently experiencing cross-border firing as a result of failed foreign policy. This is well known. Here is a riddle for you, though: Which border am I talking about? The sad fact is that it could be the border with India, where cross-border firing has been flaring up again at the Line of Control. It could also be the border with Afghanistan, where cross-border firing left an innocent civilian dead earlier this week. It could also be the border with Iran, where artillery fire has once again ignited. Each of these situations will be dismissed as unique crises caused by issues specific to those borders, but what other country in the world is currently suffering cross-border firing from every side? The truth is, each of these crises is rooted in a failed foreign policy that has turned our country into a hub of international terrorism.

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