Iran Back in the Game | Editorial

Iran’s upward turn in regional fortunes looks set to reshape the Middle East as well as South Asia. And while this proves more than irksome to the US – Tehran enjoys the upper hand. All of which may be good news for Pakistan.

News of a tentative thawing of ties with Saudi Arabia was swiftly followed by some good old-fashioned Iranian hardball: limiting Houthi attacks on the Kingdom’s oil facilities in exchange for the sale of Tehran’s oil on world markets. If negotiated properly, including security guarantees for poverty-stricken Yemen, this would benefit the entire Middle East. While going some way to diminish the American policy of divide and conquer. Given that Pakistan enjoys close ties with both Riyadh and Tehran, it should offer to mediate between the two if needed. This will also be in keeping with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s political stance on Yemen.

Naturally, the signing of the China-Iran strategic cooperation partnership back in March fuelled US fears that Tehran is in cahoots with Beijing to displace it as the traditional hegemon power in the Middle East. There may be some truth to this. But, in reality, the Chinese already secured entry into the Middle East by way of the Belt, Road Initiative (BRI). In addition, Beijing is Saudi Arabia’s top economic trading partner and is a crucial investor in Israeli infrastructure.

Closer to home, Iran is already clipping American wings in South Asia and it is here that Pakistan stands to gain the most. Especially now that India has been ‘removed’ from the Chabahar Port project; following accusations that New Delhi had stalled on investment outlays at the US behest. If true, the move backfired given that Iran is now proposing to extend the existing CPEC corridor to from Pakistan’s Gwadar Port to Chabahar and then use rail connectivity to take trade onwards to Central Asia and then Europe. This has the potential to turn the so-called golden ring – China, Iran, Pakistan, Russia and Turkey – into the centrepiece of the BRI project.

An ‘encircled’ India may well try and implicate Pakistan in the inevitable blowback from Afghanistan following the US drawdown. Yet, so far, this seems unlikely. New Delhi has suffered enormously from the havoc wreaked by Covid-19 and is focused on putting its own house in order. Indeed, it has expressed willingness to invest in Iran once sanctions are lifted and the 2015 nuclear deal revived.

There is no reason that regional economic connectivity cannot ensure peace and security far more effectively than the US in its role of self-proclaimed world’s policeman. Bluntly put, recent developments have signalled to Washington that those heady days – whereby it was able to link hard cash injections to the selective championing of human rights – are on the wane. For just as China doesn’t do gunboat diplomacy, it isn’t interested in effecting regime change; much less on the false pretext of installing democracy.

New regional world orders are in the making. It remains up to the US to decide whether it wants to be part of them. Or stand against them. *


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June 2021
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