Pakistan, it seems, has permanently entangled itself into the regional power politics between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This is not just because Iran and Saudi Arabia are, historically and intrinsically, associated with the cultural and religious outlook of Pakistan’s two sizable minority sects, namely Shiite and Ahle-Hadis. The later enjoys strong sympathisers in the Deoband sect as well.
Instead, Pakistan’s entanglement has resulted mainly from the accumulative effects of its economic dependence and the geopolitical legacy of General Ziaul Haq’s regime. Especially, Zia’s decision to renounce Z.A Bhutto’s policy of ‘bilateralism’ that had enabled Pakistan to establish normal diplomatic and economic relationships with rival Cold-War camps and, most importantly, the Arab and the non-Arab Muslim states or kingdoms, including Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Although, Iran, unlike Saudi Arabia, enjoys strategically indispensable position for Pakistan and the entire Southwest Asian region, yet under the dogmatic regime of General Zia, Riyadh was able to weave itself — with the help of oil’s money and the CIA — into the geopolitical dynamics of South and Southwest Asian region. This was particularly the case after the Kingdom became a major financier of America’s sponsored ‘Jihad’ against the then Soviet forces in Afghanistan — its role and influence in Pakistan’s or South Asian geopolitics, at large, became too consequential to be ignored.
As Pakistan tried to steer an independent foreign policy, the Saudis, mainly through the UAE, hit it where it hurts the most — sending thousands of Pakistani workers back to their homes while shamelessly courting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
At General Zia’s pleasure (the author of the ‘puritanical-mission’ in Pakistan), the Saudis, under the guise of Jihad against the so-called godless Soviets, launched their own ideologically driven power-struggle to counterbalance the Shiite-Revolutionary Iran of Khamenei that had pledged to export its ideology and revolutionary-zeal to the Muslim-World — especially the Middle Eastern Kingdoms to, apparently, dislodge pro-US monarchs and dictators from the region.
Since General Zia’s regime had already undertook to Islamise Pakistan’s polity and radicalise its geopolitics, the Americans and the Saudis found in him a willing and needy ‘frontline ally’ to contain both the Soviet’s and Iranian growing influence in the Middle East or the Southwest Asian region. Ironically, the Americans, Zia and Saudis felt no qualms in sharing the same bed with the godless Chinese against the godless Soviets. This shows how ideologies are manufactured and deployed as ‘smoke-screen’ to hide selfish interests and pernicious attributes of power politics.
In the name of his so-called ‘puritanical-mission’ or the ideology of Islamisation, General Zia’s regime justified Pakistan’s role as ‘frontline proxy state’ of Saudis and Americans against the Soviet Union and Iran. More so, Zia, tacitly allowed the Saudis to spread their Salafi-Ideology both in Pakistan and Afghanistan, countries that share border with Iran (Afghanistan on the north and Pakistan on the far south). To counter Saudi moves, Tehran responded with its own proxy war inside Pakistan and Afghanistan, a prelude to sectarian terrorism in the two countries. The decades of 1980s and 1990s witnessed one of the worst spate of sectarian terrorism in Pakistan and flames of sectarian hatred continued to engulf the entire country through 2000s. In addition, under General Zia, heroin-addicts and Kalashnikov-wielders in Pakistan reached to an alarming number, while his parasite regime continued to inject Dollars and Riyals into the social fabric of Pakistan, diminishing its ‘will and capacity’ to become self-reliant and economically independent.
Zia’s corrosive and divisive geopolitics became handy for New Delhi to carve a closer economic and strategic relationship with Tehran. He, in fact handed Iran (Pakistan’s oldest regional ally and strategically the most important country in the region) to India on a silver plate, for he and his successors failed to detoxify themselves from the chronic addiction of Dollars and Riyals.
Today, Pakistan, perhaps, can no longer steer an independent foreign policy, especially after Saudis and their vessel state UAE badly exposed Pakistan’s Achilles’ heel(economic dependence)when our ruling elite refused to play Saudi Arabia’s proxy in Yemen — gathering enough courage to bail Pakistan out of hellish geopolitics of the Kingdoms of Heaven, the Salafi-Saudi-Arabia and the Shiite Iran. However, as the ruling elite of Pakistan tried to steer an independent foreign policy, the Saudis, mainly through UAE hit Pakistan where it hurts the most, sending thousands of Pakistani workers or poor job seekers back to their homes while shamelessly courting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the butcher of Gujrat’s Muslims. Against this backdrop, our immune system collapsed, forcing us to return to the Kingdom of Heaven with our finest ex-Army Chief.
It is true that there is no quick remedy for our addiction to Riyals and Dollars, neither can we undo General Zia’s legacy in months. Down the road, we must however ensure that Pakistan — if it must steer an independent foreign policy and live with dignity among international community — acquires multiple and multidimensional deterrence capability. This would mean acquiring an independent and strong economy that can deter arm-twisters and blackmailers. For only a prosperous, democratic and united nation that can deter aggressors and exploiters.
The writer is a research fellow at CSSPR, University of Lahore