Pakistan-Iran Flare-Up: Beyond Balouch Separatism – OpEd


Cumulatively, Saudi-Pak relations had deteriorated; however, over long estranged Iran, Pakistan with the Sino-Russian match-making had come closer. Thus, amid the Israel-Hamas war and growing mistrust between the US and Iran, the unprecedented Iran-Pakistan flare-up has taken foreign and security policy analysts and students with surprise. Apparently, Iran-Pakistan tensions have risen on the question of failure of both the countries to eliminate the presence of the Balouch separatists on each other’s soil. In fact, there are various other eco-political, geo-strategic and geo-political underpinnings which suggest that the lately established cordiality between Iran and Pakistan is hard to continue. 

Pakistan has been historically member of the US camp. However, soon after Indo-China war of 1962, Pakistan began dividing loyalty in-between the US and China. For long, Pakistan kept striking balance between the US and China. During Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan, all the three countries the US, China and Pakistan were in alliance against the Soviet Union. During this era, the US overlooked Pakistan’s activities of building nuclear weapons and China supplied with the men, material and technology. That culminated in the nuclear weapons for Pakistan. Still, Pakistan felt jilted by the US and the temptations of the hefty China Pakistan Economic Corridor loans drew Pakistan away from the US and brought it almost in the Chinese camp. 

The rise of China and the resurgence of Russia challenged the US status of the sole super power. Thus, the world turned out to be the bipolar. Now there were two super powers – the US and China. As time passed, the Sino-US divergences widened and intensified and the world began falling into two camps – the US camp and the Chinese camp. Accordingly, in Asia, the Chinese-led alliance consisting of Russia, Iran and Pakistan shaped.

Resultantly, despite warning after warning of the US, Pakistan kept playing critically important role in expansion of the Chinese economic project of Belt and Road Initiative through China Pakistan Economic Corridor. So, with the facilitations of Pakistan, China began working on the project-connectivity with Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia and up to Russia and Western Europe via Eastern and Central Europe. Seemingly, CPEC, starter project of the BRI in the West Asia up to the West Europe, was a lofty infrastructure project to the imagination of Pakistanis. Thus, even the school-going kids in Pakistan thought that the CPEC is a game-changer project, and it will change the destinies of the Pakistanis.

However, the outcome has been otherwise. Instead of growing its economy with the installation of CPEC projects, the economy of Pakistan has reached the brink. In fact, the CPEC projects have not earned Pakistan what it had expected. Pakistan is feeling disappointed and dejected with the CPEC projects. In an utter despondency, Pakistan knocked at the doors of China, the US, Saudi Arabia and the UAE for cash to rescue its economy from the total collapse. Yet, no country came forward to bail out Pakistan’s sinking economy. 

As a matter of fact, Pakistan was left with no other options except China because it had chosen China over the US and was supposed to talk to China for cash. Thus, Pakistan talked to China but the response came in BIG NO for cash. Besides, money lending institutions also showed lackluster. On the other hand, Pakistan needed an instant cash package. But, monetary assistance came from nowhere. Now Pakistan’s economy was on the verge. In this moment of utter frustration, the US found some solution for Pakistan’s crumbling economy. The US exhorted the IMF to lend Pakistan loans, and IMF came forward and granted Pakistan loans. Accordingly, the sinking ship of the Pakistan’s economy as rescued by the IMF with the prodding of the US, though for the time being. This Pakistan’s bitter experience with China, in fact, again brought Pakistan back in the US camp after a sojourn in the Chinese camp.

Since then the ship of Pakistan’s economy floats only with the loan installments IMF injects with the approval of the US and its partners. Therefore, Pakistan was and will remain in the US camp. So, Pakistan’s return into its historic alliance will break or at least weaken China-Pakistan-Iran-Russia alliance. Now on Pakistan will remain in the US alliance and Iran in the Russo-Chinese camp. Obviously, the shifting of alliance will result in inharmonious relations between Pakistan and Iran. 

Moreover, war in the Middle East is escalating day in day out. It will directly negatively impact Pakistan-Iran relations. In fact, Iran had built and backed Houthis in Yemen against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Houthis’ assertiveness in Yemen and in the Middle East affairs on the side of Iran will further antagonize the Arab world, especially Saudi Arabia against the Iranian regime. Obviously, Saudi Arabia and the UAE along with the other Arab states and the US too will demand Pakistan to provide it intelligence and military complex to be used against the Houthis and the other proxies of Iran. Being a cash-stripped country, Pakistan will not hesitate to offer its military complex. This is another factor that why Pakistan and Iran relations will remain hostile. 

Also, Pakistan is a Sunni-majority state, while Iran is a Shia-majority state. In both the countries, the states have daubed their populace with the sectarianism. Their populace doesn’t like each other to the point of hate. Even though states are compelled by the various reasons to live with peace and in a friendship, but a little misunderstanding will easily lead to the estrangement. 

Furthermore, there are cultural differences between both the countries. The Persian language is an unknown thing in Pakistan and Urdu and other Pakistani languages are unfathomable in Iran. Iranians and Pakistanis can’t talk to each other. The same is the case with China. Pakistanis can’t understand the Chinese language and the Chinese can’t understand the Pakistani languages. Thus, Pakistan is more culturally connected with the US and India. A sufficient percentage of the Pakistani population can communicate in English and almost 90 per cent Pakistanis understand Hindi easily. Therefore, people to people brotherly relations between Iran and Pakistan are hard to establish. Pakistan feels comfortable in the US camp. 

Raza Shahanai

Raza Shahanai teaches Pakistan Studies at Shah Abdul Latif University Khairpur, Sindh.

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