The times are a-changin’, as a wise man once said. And nowhere does this hold more true than in Pakistan’s own backyard; given the new and more belligerent US administration. Yet there is nothing quite like the arrival of an uninvited cuckoo into the regional nest to push together two squawking neighbours who have long been on opposite sides of the geopolitical divide.And so it is that Gen Bajwa is the first Army chief to make an official visit to Tehran in two decades. The Foreign Office was quick to issue a statement saying that it is thoroughly unruffled by the newly operational India-Afghanistan trade route that goes via Iran instead of us. And so it should be, given that it is Islamabad that blocked Indian goods entering our territory. This suggests that our COAS has bigger and worse things to worry about. In the last week alone, regional manoeuvrings have seemingly come together to turn up the pressure on Iran to near fever-pitch. Over the weekend, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned live on Saudi television, citing undue Iranian interference and assassination fears. On the same day, the Saudis claimed that the ballistic missile launched at them by the Yemen’s Houthi rebels had Iranian fingerprints all over it. This is to say nothing of NATO, earlier in the week, suggesting that Tehran, along with Moscow, is arming insurgents in Afghanistan; or the CIA ‘confirmation’ of Bin Laden’s ties to the Iranian regime.All of which means that Pakistan needs to tread very carefully. For while it is welcome that both Islamabad and Tehran are on the same page regarding the need for a credible Afghan-led peace process next door — we would do well to ensure that we don’t become bogged down in the ongoing Gulf Crisis, which, in reality, is a proxy war being played out between Riyadh and Tehran with tacit backing from Washington. Pakistan can no longer afford to be collateral damage in someone else’s war. Yet this is not to say that we should not be standing side-by-side with the Iranians against American warmongering. We absolutely must. And we trust Gen Bajwa to convey our concerns with a military man’s precision logic. For this is a chance for Pakistan to show that it is a mature regional player. The Foreign Office statement is a first step towards this end, provided that it actually means what it says. Though with straight-talking Khawaja Asif at the helm, we should have no worries on that front. Which is why Pakistan needs to also get behind the India-Iran pipeline. This is to be built with Russian help, with Pakistani companies also said to be involved. We should remember, too, that we have friends in the hood, largely thanks to CPEC. And it may even work to our advantage to have New Delhi and Tehran cooperating closely on trade. For this means that the latter will, to some extent have India’s ear. Thus can Iran do its best to urge New Delhi to take the Kashmir issue back to the UN. It doesn’t matter that it is unlikely to listen as long as Modi is at the helm — for trade routes bring with them a certain leverage; and that should also include gently asking India to rethink its long-term alliance with Washington.In short, we need to keep a cool head; keep calm and carry on. * Published in Daily Times, November 7th 2017.