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Current Affairs

A Game Changing Deal

A game-changing deal
I.A. Rehman
WHILE the agreement between P5+1 and Iran over the latter’s nuclear programme has rightly been hailed as the beginning of a new phase in international relations, its implications for Middle Eastern politics are truly momentous and hence of special interest to Pakistan.
After making up with China many years ago and shaking hands with Cuba recently, the United States has allowed pragmatism to persuade it to embrace a country it had kept on its enemy list for more than three decades. At the same time, Iran has recognised its interest in closing the chapter of its high intensity hostility towards Western countries, the US in particular.
Iran is apparently the principal beneficiary of the deal as it promises it the revival of its economy and an increase in its stature as a regional power. However, much will depend upon the way the agreement is implemented. Apprehensions of a radical shift in the balance of power in the Middle East are perhaps the reason that the deal has attracted some adverse comments too. The anxieties of critics, however, can easily be understood.
Israel’s loud protest means no more than a pro forma reaction and a plea for greater aid from the US. It has no reason to doubt US determination to provide it with effective protection. The US defence secretary has already declared that the accord does not preclude military action against Iran.
Pakistan, Iran and India must accept that the security cover N-bombs are supposed to provide is illusory.
Saudi Arabia has real worries. The kingdom finds itself surrounded by pockets of Iranian influence — in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, to say nothing of Hezbollah’s presence in Lebanon. This is the end of King Faisal’s dream of countering Nasserite Arab nationalism and the secular politics of the Baath party in the Syria-Iraq region with what was called Islamic nationalism or what Robert Fisk has aptly described as Sunni dominance. The only option before the kingdom is to grow out of the tribal phase and stop mixing belief with politics.
More relevant than external criticism are the voices of dissent in Iran itself. Its foremost religious authority, Ayatollah Khamenei, hardly appeared to favour the deal as it signified, in his view, abandonment of his country’s opposition to US policies. The official Iranian response has been reaffirmation of support to its friends across the Near East.
The confrontation between President Rouhani and his critics is unlikely to end soon. At the heart of the disagreement lies the belief that the Muslims have cherished throughout the centuries of their subjugation by the West that their natural prowess as fighters will enable them to vanquish any rival, no matter how superior in number and arms it may be. The price the Muslim world has paid for nourishing this improbable myth is colossal.
Israel today occupies an area much larger than what it had at the time of its creation, thanks to the Arab regimes’ attempts to destroy it with their passion alone. Pakistan made a similar mistake by trying to take Kashmir by force. The wars of 1965 and 1971 played a large part in making UN resolutions on the dispute with India redundant in the eyes of the world.
This is not to suggest that all Muslim states should start hobnobbing with Israel or that Pakistan should give up the cause of the Kashmiri people. The only point one wishes to make is that the use of force in the cause of Palestine or Kashmir must be ruled out in favour of peaceful strategies of settlement of these issues in an indeterminable future, on the strength of the enhanced economic strength and political clout the Muslim peoples are capable of acquiring if they stop wasting their resources on useless armaments.
Those against the deal on the grounds that Iran will not be able to manufacture nuclear weapons for a decade, or perhaps longer, need to realise that nuclear weapons make their owners less secure and not more. They may look at the huge cost Pakistan has paid for gate-crashing into the nuclear powers’ club. Islamabad has to spend a good bit of time offering assurances that Pakistani nukes are in safe and responsible hands. Nobody realises the negation of such rhetoric by statements, such as the one attributed to the country’s defence minister, to the effect that Pakistan’s nuclear devices are not mere showcase decorations.
The reality that both Pakistan and Iran, and India too, must accept is that the security cover that nuclear bombs are supposed to provide is illusory. Far better security can be achieved by realising the developing world’s economic potential, by offering its populations a higher stake in patriotism, and by cementing friendly relations among the Third World countries. Looked at from this point of view Iran loses nothing by the Vienna deal.
Quite a few Pakistani observers have gleefully hailed the nuclear accord as they see enhanced prospects for gainful cooperation with Iran. Islamabad will do well to control its emotions, for the change in the Middle East politics presents it with quite a few challenges. That Iran has become a key player in the region is not debatable but the way it chooses to play its trumps will have to be watched as closely as the Saudi moves to face the situation.
The one thing Islamabad cannot afford to do is to judge its friendship with Iran and Saudi Arabia by their ties with India, as both are likely to warm up to New Delhi. Pakistan will need diplomacy of the highest calibre to keep its feet in both the Iranian and Saudi boats. It must not get involved with the religious rift between two of its closest friends. The ideal of being able to broker peace between them is much too tempting but Pakistan has done little to qualify for this august role.
Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2015


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