Saudi-Pakistan Alliance with Iran not ignored

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Saudi-Pakistan Alliance with Iran not ignored

Date: 9/30/2018 1:21:12 PM

Saudi-Pakistan Alliance with Iran not ignored

By Muhammad Ali Ehsan

The visit to Pakistan by Ahmad Agil al Khateeb(Chairman Saudi Fund for development), an adviser to Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, on September 27th, has raised the prospects of Pakistan not only avoiding a bailout package from the IMF but instead possibly getting a multibillion-dollar package from Saudi Arabia. However, every time Saudi Arabia and Pakistan come close to execute any military (Gen Raheel Sharif occupies the post of commander of the Islamic Military Counter-Terrorism Coalition) or economic strategic agreement (already received $1.5billion from Saudi Arabia in March 2014 as friendly gift and ‘unconditional grant’) one is reminded of the simultaneous ‘indispensible relationship’ that Pakistan needs to maintain with Iran. We know that Saudi Arabia is no friend of Iran and we also know that Iran is not only our neighbour but a very dear friend. Saudi Arabia’s participation as the third strategic partner in CPEC coupled with its economic assistance to Pakistan will most definitely expand its influence in this region but would that be at the cost of Pakistan’s relationship with Iran?

Ideally a state’s policy does not change with the change in government. The state of Pakistan has over the years maintained a ‘policy of neutrality’ while dealing with both Iran and Saudi Arabia and it is hoped that the current Imran Khan-led government in Pakistan will also do the same. Iran understands the complexity of the strategic environment faced by Pakistan — regionally Pakistan faces a similar opponent (India) like Iran does globally (US), both the US and India hold almost similar and sinister vision about the future of these countries. US Secretary of Defence Gen James Mattis considers Iran as ‘the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in Middle East’ and PM Modi of India who believes that ‘blood and water can’t flow together’ continues to unleash his military commander General Bippin Rawat to give unreasonable and immature military statements of ‘teaching Pakistan a lesson’ and executing more (the first is still to be proved with evidence) surgical strikes. What Iran needs to understand about the current closeness and the strategic military and economic partnership between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia is that it is urgent and most needed. It would understand that it also faces similar geo-political circumstances as faced by Pakistan. In that case the choice that any country makes represents is to guard its national interests in an unfavourable environment or imposed circumstances that are difficult to circumvent. Who would understand that better than Iran? Why?

In case of Iran, the United States has consistently believed that rolling back Iran’s influence in Middle East (Iran is accused of utilising asymmetric means in the Middle East to extend its interests) will bring about a change in order there. This thinking is not dissimilar to the Indian thinking about Pakistan which also imagines, designs and wants to develop a regional order in South Asia that does not include but excludes Pakistan as a strategic partner and stakeholder. Why would Iran not oppose any order that is designed to exclude it in the Middle East and why would Pakistan not do the same in South Asia? Iran only wants to protect its national interests and does not want to export (as the US and Israeli worry) an ‘Iranian revolution’ to the Middle East in the similar ways as Pakistan doesn’t want terrorism to ‘bite other countries’ the way it has bitten it. Iran also feels threatened with the ‘reinvigorated US-Saudi relationship’ as much as Pakistan feels very anxious and insecure because of the growing US-Indo strategic partnership. Military expenditures of the US and Israel aside there are seven states in the Middle East whose annual military expense in percentage of their GDPs is greater than Iran’s. Similarly India’s military expenditure in 2016 and 2017 was 2.5% of GDP compared to 1.5% of China. Why would the world would expect both Iran and Pakistan not to react to how both Iran and Pakistan can give up their spears and stop holding their shields if they are continued to be threatened by states that hold and employ these strategies. When surrounded by such threats and when the conventional military balance continues to expand both the countries have to take measures to balance against the threat.

There is a moral aspect of this comparison too. The United States accuses Iran of employing ‘strategy of forward defence’ through which it empowers and emboldens both Hamas and Hezbollah who act as a counter-weight and pose a clear and present danger and an everlasting threat against Israel. But has not Iran been able to thwart ISIS threat through the utilisation of its ‘forward defence strategy’? Left on the US and its declared military objective of defeating ISIS could the Iranians have prevented ISIS from reaching the Iranian borders? Though lately ISIS has struck a target inside Iran on the Iraqi border and that further highlights how important was it for Iran to combat ISIS through a forward defence posture. The moral dilemma is that when the US works against and not with Iran that terrorist organisations like ISIS expand and proliferate. Quite similarly as the US coerces Pakistan to ‘do more’ on the ‘terrorist front’ yet gives defacto sanction to India and its very sorry record of executing ‘state terrorism’ on the people of India-held Kashmir.

Lastly, it is hoped that Iran understands Pakistan’s insecurities and the dire times that necessitate the need for its economic assistance and strategic partnership. Confronted with a much bigger enemy and threat Pakistan has to take all possible measures to guard against it and fight its battle for survival. Much as Iran does today in the face of the growing US-Israel challenge. Pakistan’s alliance and closer ties with Saudi Arabia can never be at the cost of its relationship with Iran. What the crown prince of Saudi Arabia has in common today with the Imran-led government in Pakistan is the ‘commonality of intent’. Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Sultan, like Imran Khan, holds in deep grudge those who indulge in corruption and also like him wants to implement an ambitious socio-economic reform. The ‘political chemistry’ between the two leaders augurs well for a sustainable state-to-state strategic partnership. It is hoped that this partnership will help end conflict and create a framework of peace and stability in the region of which Iran may also become a larger stakeholder and a partner.

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