Cooperation is the best way forward
In October 2017, Iran wrote a letter to Pakistan for resumption of Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, though it paid no heed to Pakistan’s request for revisiting the price. The letter is a fresh bid to push ahead with the long-stalled gas pipeline project, especially following persistent pressure from Saudi Arabia and sanctions imposed by the United States. Saudi Arabia had also ramped up pressure on Pakistan to stay away from expanding ties with Iran in any way. In return, Qatar’s LNG was emphasized to be imported by Pakistan to meet its energy requirements at cheap price.
Pakistan takes the shelter of the clause of the IP agreement under which Iran is bound to cut the gas price if Pakistan is able to import energy at lower prices from other sources. However, Iran tends to test its moderate relationship with Pakistan amid its frosty relationship with the Unites States and also with Saudi Arabia. It seemingly desires to keep Pakistan within its fold to muster support by taking the advantage of nascent Pakistan-Russia relations against America. Undoubtedly, Pakistan has been brought in abject state of confusion.
The United States and Iran have frigid relations since long. The success of Iran’s nuclear diplomacy in form of the conclusion of Iran-P5+1 deal rekindled the importance of international law which is usually violated by the states owing to its limited juridical outreach and lack of executive authority with a separate desk. Consequently, Iran has stretched its nuclear programme for nearly a decade. Nevertheless, President of the United States, Donald Trump, is not convinced, at all, with the nuclear deal. And the issue remains alive in the same spirit as it was in the run-up to the very diplomatic deal.
Pakistan and Iran have a fragile relationship. Apparently, it is due to Pakistan’s inclination toward Saudi Arabia. But, undeniably, Iran also has its own vested interests in the region.
Iran and Pakistan share commonality of religion, history and culture, and it was the first country that recognized Pakistan immediately after its independence. Soon, they both signed a treaty of friendship and the relations went on so well that the Shah of Iran, Reza Shah Pahelvi, reportedly even proposed the idea of a confederation of Iran and Pakistan with a single army. Likewise, both states became members of the American-led alliance named the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), originally known as the Baghdad Pact or the Middle East Treaty Organization (METO). However, Iran moved around to start its politico-economic alliance with India after the dismemberment of East Pakistan.
Unfortunately, Pakistan’s relations with all its neighbouring countries, barring China, are frosty. Unlocking Central Asian States including Afghanistan for trade remains a real challenge for Pakistan. With the fast-depleting natural resources in the Arab world and other countries, the significance of the CARs is gradually soaring to unprecedented heights. The mighty powers are being tempted to make all-out efforts to unlock the energy-rich landlocked states. Likewise, Pakistan bears significance in this scenario owing to its situation closer to them.
Iran intends to assume a regional role to overshadow the economic might of Saudi Arabia. Seemingly, Iran’s relations with China are amicable but factually they are based more on strategic interests. Also, Iran cannot afford to jettison India that is especially hostile to China and Pakistan’s interests. And, not to forget Russia that gives Iran strength to stand up against all its external challenges.
Moreover, the relationship between Iran and the US may not remain tense due to the emerging global scenario of railway freight by China – interconnectivity of the world by means of railway instead of seaway. After all, the rail is cheaper than freight by air and faster than a voyage by ship. The converging points of the US and Iran would come about after the successful actualization of Chinese rail-road network. China would need access to penetrate southern region of Europe via Iran by railway from Pakistan, and it is here where the US containment policy comes into play.
The US has a mighty naval force that is equipped with advanced weaponry and training, since American continent is situated around the oceans in solitude. The forces have a paramount potential to hold American imperialism stable. The US has deployed its forces throughout the world to maintain its hegemony, or more rightly unipolarity. Even its overwhelming sway across the Pacific Rim has impelled China to open the door of its western frontier for continuing with its trade and commerce uninterrupted. However, the recent successful circuit of the railway freight – Chinese goods transported to London and then transportation of the foreign goods to China through rail-road, must have posed a threat to the US way of trade: seaway. Since China wants to interconnect the Eurasian region through rail-road, which is the least expensive, feasible and secure way to transport goods; therefore, it has unveiled its network of One Belt, One Road (OBOR).
In addition, China is going to spend up to one trillion US dollars on infrastructure projects amid hopes to bind more than 65 countries and two-thirds of the world’s population to its economy. Economists ascribe the economic investment to a modern-day Marshall Plan – the original one helped secure the US as the world’s superpower after World War II – but it is much bigger than that in value. The US only spent about $130 billion on the Marshall Plan, while China is hoping to spend much more as it aims to lift its trade by $2.5 trillion in a decade by flooding world markets with cheap, high-quality Chinese goods. Hence, it is said that ‘China is an empire, building on a scale the world has not seen before’.
It, in effect, is an attempt by China to secure global dominance at a time when the United States is stepping back, and on the domestic front, to keep growth and wealth strong for decades to come.
In the light of the above facts, China seems least interested in bringing about rapprochement between Pakistan and Afghanistan, but would rather be more interested in maintaining robust bilateral relationship with Afghanistan. Iran is an option for China to ensure its access penetrating to the southern region of Europe. For this, Afghanistan may be ruled out. Pakistan’s rail-road network may be used to connect with Iran for transporting the cargo.
In this state of affairs, Pakistan should strengthen its relationship with Iran. The irritants in the bilateral relations should be addressed pragmatically. Iran would need to have the shortest possible pipeline route for gas exports not only to Pakistan but to China as well. For it, Pakistan is the most viable option. Iran, on the other hand, needs to lower the price of its gas to Pakistan, because the salvation of both states lies in mutual understanding and resolution of all the outstanding issues. After all, Pakistan is going to build strong infrastructure and communication network under the CPEC project. Most notably, making route via Afghanistan would not be feasible for Iran under the prevailing situation of undeveloped infrastructure and acute sense of insecurity.