By Imtiaz Gul
10 Apr 2015
The entire Middle East, from Israel to Yemen and from Iraq and Iran, finds itself in an unprecedented turmoil. Aided by Egyptian and Jordanian pilots, the Saudi-led jets are pounding targets in Yemen. Iraqi forces are battling the IS militias to reestablish their writ over territories lost to forces that were born out of the Saudi-US-led charge on Syria. Top officials from Pakistan and Turkey are visibly trying to contain the consequences of the Saudi invasion of Yemen. Private entities such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Afghanistan’s Hizb-e-Islami are vowing to shore up Saudi defense against what they see as Iranian expansionist designs.
Iran on the other hand has just clinched its nuclear deal with the US-led P-5. This deal marks new realignments in the Middle East, with Tehran also offering mediation support to diffuse the crisis arising out of the Royal Kingdom’s belligerence that is cloaked by most vested interest as a conflict between Shia and Sunni Islam.
In the words of Mir Hasil Bizenjo, the de facto chief of the National Party (Balochistan), this is an Arab conflict about geo-political interests and not a sectarian dispute between Yemen’s Shia Muslims and Saudi Wahabi Muslims.
Hassan Rouhani, the reformist Iranian President, has transformed Iran-West relations into a new era and appears to have ended years of Iran’s international isolation. April 2, 2015 indeed underscored a new beginning for Iran when it finally entered into an understanding over its enrichment of nuclear fissile material with the European Union (EU) and P5+1.
Under the terms of deal, Iran has agreed to reduce by approximately two-thirds its installed centrifuges, meaning thereby that it would cut the number of its centrifuges from the current 19,000 to some 6,104. Only 5,060 of these centrifuges would be able to enrich uranium for 10 years. If the deal eventually matures into a lasting agreement, it will likely help boost the global economic market and serve as a precursor to regional stability.
That is why optimist analysts sound upbeat and regard the US-Iran nuclear deal as a possible game changer for the region. John Kerry, the US secretary of State, believes “the understanding we have reached is a solid foundation for the good deal we seek”. US President Barack Obama said in an interview to NPR, “This deal is the right thing to do for the United States, for our allies in the region and for world peace regardless of the nature of the Iranian regime”. Obama also refused to give in to an Israeli demand. “The notion that we would condition Iran not getting nuclear weapons, in a verifiable deal, on Iran recognizing Israel is really akin to saying that we won’t sign a deal unless the nature of the Iranian regime completely transforms,” Obama said in the same interview.
This is a big statement coming out of Washington and sets the tone for its future relations with Tehran, which could entail positive implications for Iran and its eastern neighbours. This did not amuse either Israel or Saudi Arabia, which objected to the deal, citing Iran’s role in the proxy wars in the region.
The removal of sanctions would provide Iran with access to international markets and free it up of fears of trade embargoes, its historical links with Hezbollah, Hamas and Houthis in Yemen notwithstanding – links that constitute part of the basis for sanctions on Iran.
The easing of tensions with the US and its allies would allow Iran to quietly consolidate its geo-political gains it has made by default in the region (the empowerment of Shia Muslims in Iraq).
Iran would also possibly leverage the deal for realizing a number of projects that have remained hostage to the American and European sanctions. It can probably, more forcefully, pursue gas and pipeline projects with Pakistan and Indian.
The Iranian pro-active political role following the nuclear deal creates a huge space for both Turkey and the embattled government of Pakistan to nudge Saudi Arabia from conflict to dialogue in Yemen on the one hand, and to fend off the Saudi demands for Pakistani military and its hardware in its “war on Shia expansionism.”
Pakistan is caught up in a complex situation. However it may desire to pursue its nuclear programme, it will come under greater international pressure for opening up its nuclear establishment to scrutiny.
While the “Pakistani bomb” may be of some consolation for Saudi Arabia, it has lost its relevance with the passage of time and remains most probably an India-specific threat. The US-Iran deal, however, also opens new possibilities for the nuclear-armed India and Pakistan. If US and Iran can bury the acrimonious past, why cant Islamabad and New Delhi chart the same way when it comes to weapons of mass destruction.
Dr TCA Raghavan, the Indian High Commissioner, for instance, told a gathering at the Center for Research and Security Studies on April 7, that both countries can not only learn from the latest nuclear deal but also from the way China and Japan, or Japan and South Korea have gone about their relations.
With the unfolding geo-strategic dynamics triggered by the strident Saudi position and US-Iran rapprochement brings with it unprecedented pressure on Pakistan. The latter shall have to carefully tread the path to keep the balance in relations with Turkey, Iran and the Royal Kingdom. It is easier said than done. An extremely difficult balancing act indeed, particularly in view of the political discord currently visible in and outside the parliament.
Imtiaz Gul heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad and is the author of Pakistan: Pivot of Hizbut Tahrir’s Global Caliphate.