Our foreign policy chickens seem to be coming home to roost. It is now time, therefore, to take full stock of the situation and re-design a new Pakistan-centric foreign policy replacing the failed India — centric foreign policy. There are a number of genuine reasons for the on-going running feud between India and Pakistan. But most Pakistanis find it almost impossible to understand why there is so much bitterness between Kabul and Islamabad on one hand and on the other the sudden eruption of palpable hostility between Tehran and Islamabad. What happened at the Chaman border along the Durand Line (DL) earlier this month was a tragedy. At least for a day or so it looked as if the unthinkable was about to take place. A war between Pakistan and Afghanistan? Mercifully things did not go that far but the tension continues to be too taut to take eyes off the ball.And while we were still trying to understand the why and the how of the cross DL bloody skirmish we were dealt with another shocker, this time from our other very close brotherly Muslim neighbour. The head of the Iranian armed forces warned Islamabad early this week that Tehran would hit bases inside Pakistan if the government did not confront militants who carry out cross-border attacks.Ten Iranian border guards were killed by militants last month. Iran said Jaish-al-Adl, an off-shoot of the banned anti-Shiite Sipah-i-Sahaba, had shot the guards with long-range guns, fired from inside Pakistan.We cannot absolve ourselves of committing the blunder of looking the other way as the Saudi funded sectarian militant groups started playing their dirty game in Balochistan. Perhaps we thought their murderous sectarian activities would somehow disrupt the Baloch insurgency which had become too distracting for the state. To weigh the real significance of the Iranian warning it needs to be viewed along with the recent developments pertaining to Pakistan’s joining the so-called 41-Muslim country military alliance sponsored by Saudi Arabia and which is being led by General (retd) Raheel Sharif, Pakistan’s former Chief of Army Staff (COAS). Since Iran is not part of this alliance and also since the sponsor of the alliance has on more than one occasion made it clear that it considered Iran to be a threat to its sovereignty. Pakistan, by joining the alliance, seems to have virtually abandoned the façade of neutrality that it had maintained between Tehran and Riyadh since independence. This is a dangerous development in view of our own sectarian demography and also because of the possibility that we would thus be virtually surrounded by three hostile neighbours capable of joining hands to undermine our sovereignty. Though nobody knows the exact terms and conditions that govern the Saudi sponsored military alliance, most Pakistanis have assumed, based on various vague statements emanating from responsible government officials that Pakistan’s involvement would be limited to defending the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and that neither its troops nor General Sharif would get involved in any military mission against any other Muslim country. But it is not Israel that is threatening the Kingdom but Iran which has made it clear that in case the alliance was used against it, Tehran would retaliate by attacking the Kingdom.Iranian Defence Minister General Hossein Dehghan has warned that any military misadventure on the part of Saudi Arabia would be met with full Iranian military might and nothing would be left in Saudi Arabia except Makkah and Madina. He was speaking to Hizbollah-owned Al Manar TV. The Iranian warning seemingly came in response to a recent statement of Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince Mohammad bin Salman that Saudis would not sit and wait for war but would work so that it becomes a battle for them in Iran and not in Saudi Arabia. There is another equally dangerous angle to the developing situation. The US appears all set to use the anti-Shiite militants groups in Pakistan to fund an insurgency in the Iranian Balochistan. Pakistan would be hard put to say no to the US which it has been trying to woo back from India since the two had entered into a mutually beneficial strategic alliance relegating Pakistan in the process from its position of Non-NATO ally of the US to almost nobody.
But the socio-economic and political cost of allowing the US and Saudi Arabia to use Balochistan for their own petty games against Iran no matter what the amount of dollars on offer would be too enormous for Pakistan, even perhaps undermining its very sovereignty.
With Balochistan becoming a war theatre we can virtually write off the CPEC and also perhaps lose our all-weather friend, China as well. And the state would find itself at the mercy of US funded terrorists eventually like it did when the US walked away in the late 1980s after the collapse of the Soviet Union leaving Pakistan to cope with the menace of made-in-America Jihadis.
It seems time for tight rope walking is over for us. We have to decide and decide quickly where do we stand in relation to Saudi Arabia and Iran? And also we need to decide whether it is in our long term national interest to once again commit the folly of fighting someone else’s war for a fee.
Let us, however, keep in mind that the main objective of President Trump’s first foreign visit after elections seems to be to get most Muslim countries including Pakistan led by Saudi Arabia to agree to launch a concerted campaign to isolate Iran.
Looking back one would have wished Pakistan to have remained out of the Saudi sponsored military alliance, wished as well that General Sharif had not accepted the job offer and that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had declined the invitation to attend the Trump summit in Riyadh.But now that we cannot undo all this at this late stage one would like PM Sharif to use the Trump summit to announce to the world that we are no more interested in fighting wars that are not ours.
Pak-centric foreign policy, please!