Pak-Iran precipice

We have been able to demonstrate our mastery in staining relations with our neighbours across the religious lines, be it with Sunni Afghanistan or Shia Iran; or with communist China or Hindu India

Pak-Iran precipice


We have got only four immediate neighbours and, as on today, we have highly strained relations with three of them. The fourth one — China — has serious reservations on some of our suicidal policies. That China’s reservations do not trump its bigger strategic goals, at least for the time being, is only a temporary relief. Additionally, we have been able to demonstrate our mastery in staining relations with our neighbours across the religious lines, be it with Sunni Afghanistan or Shiite Iran; or with communist China or Hindu India. One can only thank God that we do not have more immediate neighbours like China and Russia each having sixteen in totals.

Much has been said and written on what has gone wrong in case of India and Afghanistan. But on Iran, a fog of disinformation, propaganda and media blackout — largely because that now involves Balochistan — has dimmed the lines between reality and falsehood. Iranian Army Chief’s threat might have come as a surprise for those who rely only upon local media. For those who monitor foreign media that threat was a little overdue, unfortunately though. For quite some time now, Western media has been abuzz with reports, pieces and opinion articles pointing to sharp deterioration in Pak-Iran relations, mainly because of our recent policy shifts heavily tilting towards Saudi Arabia. Following points were highlighted in the western media: First, the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel have forged an alliance against Iran. Secondly, the Saudi-led military alliance of Sunni countries is an outcome of policy to contain Iran and has the US backing. Thirdly, US-Saudi-Israel alliance has plans to fuel ethnic tensions in various parts of Iran and the list includes Baloch area within Iran as well (that should raise alarm bells for us). Fourthly, Pakistan by allowing Gen. Raheel Sharif to head Saudi-led military alliance and committing contingent of combat troops to Saudi Arabia has made a policy shift that is not sustainable for it. Fifthly, the proxy war theatre in Balochistan is going to heat up further as the alliance of trio is funding and supporting anti-Iran jihadi infrastructure in a big way in Balochistan. Sixthly, in financing and supporting Jundallah in Balochistan, Israel has also been part of the US and Saudi efforts. Seventhly, the Iranian threats to hit militants within Pakistan cannot be taken lightly, as in 2013 Iran has already raided and bombed anti-Iran militants in Kulauhi area of Balochistan. 

So on Iran too, we have same security-cum-foreign policy — featuring proxies, foreign funding, militancy, cross-border attacks — for which we are getting bashed internationally with respect to Afghanistan and India.

Our Foreign Office is shambolic. Partly, its complacency is its undoing. But a larger part of the blame is found in the civil-military imbalance that has plagued us from the the beginning

While we conveniently downplay the killing of around 10 Iranian border guards by militants from our side, Iran’s ire and impatience are understandable. How can our policy of opening a third front on our borders for no reason at all be defended? Why are we so fond of importing foreign conflicts in our own territory — Saudi-Iran conflict in this case?

As I have pointed out several times earlier, our policy making on foreign and security realms is in wrong hands. And that brings us to the real problem at hand that needs immediate corrective measures.

Our foreign office is in shackles. Partly, its complacency is its undoing. But larger part can be attributed to the civil-military imbalance that plagued our polity from the very beginning. Leaving aside the debate where the blame lies for a dysfunctional foreign office, we need to focus right now on how to make this core institution functional. First step would be to liberate it from overarching influence of military. Secondly, efforts are needed to attract better human resource. Decades of dysfunction have left it with a lot of deadwood. Thirdly, its bureaucratic system needs a complete overhaul so that professionalism and efficiency is rewarded and not penalised.

Naturally, revamping foreign office will not suffice; something more is required. Prime minister, who is the chief executive of country, needs to become the real boss. In the person of Nawaz Sharif, we have the best leader who has the ability to bring the country out of the abyss into which wrong policies have thrown it with respect to our immediate neighbours. Given the encouraging developments on release of missing bloggers and Dawn Leaks saga, Nawaz government should come forward and take the command of policy formulation on foreign and security matters. General Bajwa has already earned the respect and dignity of nation by showing his commitment to democracy and constitutionalism. One can hope that he has the courage to rectify anomalies in policy making and would like to record his name in history by disengaging military from the terrains that constitutionally belong to other wings of the state.

 

The writer is a former diplomat and a lawyer based in Islamabad