PAKISTAN IN THE US-IRAN EQUATION
March 09, 2012
For Pakistan, another testing time has come up to test the wits of the rulers and skills of decision-making circles as to how they steer clear of an emerging regional scenario where Iran and the US are living uncomfortably between the threat of war and provocative statements from both sides. Israel has made it a point that it would stop Iran from going nuclear at any cost, even if it is to invade the country with clinically perfect surgical strikes to take out the country’s nuclear infrastructure. President Obama has tried to convince the Israeli leadership to tone down the hawkish rhetoric but to no avail as the latter knows Obama’s limitation to snub it in the election year.
President Obama’s speech to the AIPAC-American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the most influential pro-Israel group in the US, has dealt with the matter with usual diplomatic routine. He has clearly stated that “nuclear Iran is not acceptable”, but at the same time warned, “loose talk of war only helps Iran”. Assurances were held out to Israel that for its security, the option of war is there, although as the last resort, as President Obama made it clear that instead of “containment”, “prevention” is the policy of the US vis-à-vis Iran in terms of its nuclear programme and its threatening posture towards Israel. So as a net outcome, once again the US foreign policy conduct in the Middle East seems to be hostage to Israel’s myopic and aggressive view of its national security against which several American academicians and policy-makers have warned. Pakistan has seen the US involvement in the region, but always in shape of a hegemon seeking to stamp its own will on the country, even at the expense of its own security and welfare. Partly, it is due to the domineering attitude of the US and partly it is because of weakness and shortsightedness of Pakistan’s ruling elite who invariably tend to bend backward to do the bidding of a global power whose interests never matched fully with her allies so-called or real.
The litmus test of US Pakistan convergence or divergence on Iran issue is the laying down of gas pipeline to supply much-needed energy to Pakistan which is already coping hard on several fronts, let alone the energy front. Elections are going to take place any time in a year or so and energy crunch is going to hit hard the sitting government. So it is more than urgent and necessary for the incumbent regime to provide some relief to the masses in terms of meeting the shortage of energy.
Pakistan has had enough foot-dragging on the pipeline from Iran, but now time has come to make some meaningful move on this issue. The US has clearly warned about going ahead with the pipeline, but has seen equally sharp rejoinder from Pakistan. Ms Khar’s statement that “all options are on the table to end the energy crisis” syncs well with the tone and tenor of US’s tough talk on Iran communicated in this type of phraseology. The US is not accustomed to hearing such tough talk from Pakistan, so it is bit difficult for it to stomach such stark response. The US has advised Pakistan to work on TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline to offset the IPI-Iran-Pakistan-India project. For Pakistan, this sounds ridiculous as any long-term energy project passing through the Afghan territory is far from successful in the wake of security problem and lack of infrastructure in the country.
While seeing Pakistan’s vulnerability and cornered position. India adopted the dilly-dally tactics so that the brunt of the US anger has to be born by Pakistan. China is interested in Iranian energy reservoirs so it is keeping Pakistan’s chances alive to stand up to the US’s threats and warnings. Pakistan gave up so easily on Afghanistan after 9/11 that Colin Powel who brought the message to Islamabad was utterly surprised. This time the situation is not same, but almost similar as the US is up to some adventure in the region and Pakistan has once again found itself on the wrong side of the US battle lines being drawn.
Introduction of a resolution on Balochistan issue in the US House of Representatives is like twisting Pakistan’s arm once again, although the reaction to this isolated move within the US political labyrinth in Pakistan’s media and official quarters is disproportionate. Unawareness of US constitutional nuances and politicking on such issues pertaining to foreign nations has not been accurately assessed and properly understood. The resolution was indeed an insult to Pakistan’s sovereignty and came at a time when tension on Iran front is already touching a boiling point, but there has to be measured reaction to such provocative steps. Media focused on Baloch separatists in the wake of this resolution, but it is being used as a pretext to augment the centrifugal tendencies within the Baloch community.
As things stand, Pakistan is tempted to import energy from Iran, but is squeezed by the US to give up this move. Now choice has to be made between the pressure coming from inside the country in the face of grave energy crisis or extreme pressure ramped up by the US. The top leadership is caught between a rock and a hard place and salvaging the country out of this morass is going to take not only vision and wisdom, but some courage and determination.