Uncle Sam has yet again made headlines by a pinpoint drone attack in Iraq. The Iran’s pre-eminent military leader, Major General Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Revolutionary Guards’ overseas Quds Force was attacked and killed in Iraq when he was on his way from Baghdad Airport. Soleimani was the architect of Iran’s spreading influence in the Middle East, and this is the second high-level mission which was accomplished by the American army in the recent times; first being the killing of Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi.
Pakistan’s response to the incident came by the Foreign Office and Inter Services Public Relations initially. Director General ISPR, Major General Asif Ghafoor said in his press conference: “Pakistan is on the side of peace”. The military spokesperson also quoted Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa as saying,
“Pakistan will not become party to anyone or anything but will be a partner of peace and peace alone.” The Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi called up his Iranian and UAE counterparts and discussed the regional situation. Pakistan has already called for the resolution of the dispute through diplomatic means.
Somehow, given the brief backgrounder of the attack, the points of serious concerns here are: What should Pakistan do in the current scenario? What if there starts a full-fledged war between Iran and the United States? What will be the repercussions of the on-going tensions for the region in general and Pakistan in particular?
Nonetheless, Pakistan again is at the crossroad contemplating its next step. However, as the spokespersons have already announced that the country would remain neutral and would not allow any room for the deterioration of peace within, Pakistan’s stance is undoubtedly very well-orchestrated as right after the incident both the civil and military showed their neutrality in the matters. Since, in the world affairs there are no eternal enemies and allies; only the interest always override and prevail. As Lord Palmerstone, Former British Prime Minister once remarked, “We have no eternal allies and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual and those interests, it is our duty to follow.”
Pakistan and Iran have been in very friendly bilateral relations since the beginning; Iran was the first country which recognized the newly nation-state of Pakistan and the Iranian Shah was the first leader who visited Pakistan after independence. Apart from that, the politicians of Pakistan also have had family relations with Iran’s strong-hold and influential families. It started when Pakistan’s PM Iskander Mirza got into second marriage with Naheed Ispahani in Karachi who, was the ex-wife of the military attaché of Iran’s embassy in the city. Later on, Nusrat Ispahani (a cousin of Naheed Ispahani) got married to the founder of Pakistan People’s Party Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who then became Nusrat Bhutto.
Both the countries also have had strong military ties; so much so that many Iranian Military personals have been in Pakistan for training. More astonishing is the fact that in 1989, 200 Iranian Revolutionary Guards came to Cherat for Special Service Group (SSG) training, the Young Qasem Soleimani was among them. He can also be seen shaking hands with General Mirza Aslam Baig, the then Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan, in a viral photograph.
However, it is now for the fact that Pakistan’s civil-military establishment has already experienced the damaging and harsh consequences for supporting America in its so-called war on terror. As already hundreds upon hundreds, both civilian and military personnel, have lost their lives after Pakistan became the American ally in the Afghanistan attack. Apart from that, billions of dollars have been lost to the economy of Pakistan.
Moreover, today’s political, regional and strategic dynamics are much different from the then Afghanistan attack and beginning of war against terrorism. At that time, General Pervez Musharraf had come into power after ousting a democratic government in a coup d’etat. Hence, he was in search of international support to back his realm.
America was initially not in favour of providing any support to Musharraf; but incidentally the 9/11 happened. Hence, America was in dire need of a partner to attack and fight in Afghanistan. Musharraf, who was already eager for the international support eventually decided to be the part of genuinely-American and so-called war against terrorism after receiving a threatening call from the then President of America George Bush.
Another reason for supporting the American war previously was the fact that if Pakistan would not have supported America after 9/11, India could have provided air bases to America making Pakistan isolated at international fronts. Because, the Taliban’s government was against Indian interests in Afghanistan and India had sympathies with the northern alliance in Afghanistan. There was seemingly no place for Pakistan to go against American war against terrorism at that time.
Similarly, Iran was also against the Taliban and had sympathies with the northern alliance in Afghanistan to promote a Shia realm. Furthermore, the Afghan government had become much defamed at the international front after their extremist tendencies and vehement violations of international laws. One of the incidents for such myopic policies was seen when the Taliban, notwithstanding any international norms and law, dynamited two famous historic heritage of the 4th Century giant statues of Buddha for their status as idols in front of the whole world.
The situation has now changed, but what a full-flagged war in initiated between Iran and America? Undoubtedly, Pakistan would be at the horns of the dilemma. As the “Brand-New Great Game” would start in the region and the proxy wars would be fought at every corner of this region. The pawns at the chess-board of international politics would be monstrous not only for the whole Middle East but also for South Asia.
The fact could ironically be corroborated by the saying of Mullah Mohammad Umer, who speculated that the war in Afghanistan would go beyond imagination and will reach other parts of the world. As, when America attacked Taliban, the war was estimated to be end in just a few months or years, but the war is still on-going with devastating effects for the whole region. He, at that time, opined which however proved to be true, “We do not consider the battle has ended in Afghanistan… the battle has begun and its fires are picking up. These fires will reach the white house. Because it is the center of injustice and Tyranny.”
Undoubtedly, if there starts a full-flagged war with Iran, the consequences would be far worse than the war in Afghanistan. As Iran is a much more developed country than Afghanistan with its own “Made in Iran” missiles, submarines, drones and other advanced weapons with a specially trained army. However, for Pakistan if there starts a war, there could be three major impacts. The environmental, economic and political (religious & ethnic).
Since, Iran is in a pursuit of nuclear weapons with much of the facilities spreading across the territory of the country, if America launches attacks on these facilities there are more chances of the nuclear material being spread out in the atmosphere. The nuclear material and waste would be much damaging not only for Iran’s atmosphere but also for its neighbor Pakistan with the vagaries of weather. Apart from that, Iran is having one of the largest hydrocarbon reserves in the world; with war would come the damages of the oil and gas reserves. This would ultimately spread the acidic, thick & disastrous smoke to the environment in the region and to the neighboring countries.
Economically, Pakistan is already under severe pressure. With the war with Iran, oil prices would be sky-rocketed; inflicting terrible damage to the already-strained economic condition of the country. As projects under China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) could become difficult to complete in terms of their finances once the oil prices go high. Also, the war in Iran would create refugees who will look toward Balochistan’s border and ultimately bringing with them the increasing pressure on Pakistan’s economy.
The investments under CPEC would also become skeptical as the region would become a war-zone. Apart from that, after China’s One Belt One Road initiative and CPEC, its stake in the region has increased on a grand scale. The country being the second largest economy, with a huge population and India also having a huge population and investment in Iran’s Chabahar Port, would be under severe economic pressure if there starts a war.
Politically, Pakistan would be much in trouble than any other country. The proxy war would start in the country with much potential. Already, the Shia-Sunni relations in Pakistan have been tense with the backing of Iran and Saudi Arabia’s proxy wars. For Balochistan, the low-intensity asymmetric conflict and insurgency in Sistan and Baluchestan, which began in 2004 and is still ongoing between Iran and several Baloch Sunni militant organizations, which are designated as terrorist organizations by Iran, would rise on a grand scale. The motivation of those insurgents would be multifarious from separatism to religious motivations and from Baloch nationalism to Salafi jihadism.