“What a different world in 2016 from 1979. An ascendant Iran. Declining Saudi. A USA President critical of both Israel and Saudi. An ascendant China, Russia in Asia and Middle East and the waning America. A volatile Middle East engulfed in a fire of terrorism.  With Pakistan just emerging from 36 years of conflict and terror. Interesting times,” writes Haidar Mehdi, former Pakistan Army Officer and Convener of The Strategy Study Group, presently based in North America.

The situation at hand is complex. Whereas a segment of strategists, if one may use the term for want of anything better, feel that Pakistan is indispensable to interests of other nations owing to its geographical location, being the gateway between Central and South Asia, I submit that Pakistan has been over playing the strategic card in exclusion to all other elements involved . Pakistan has been historically reliant on foreign powers to run its internal matters. The ‘foreign powers’ giving financial handouts rightly feel the weight of ‘being right’ on their world-weary shoulders with the responsibility to nappy-change Pakistan. Right now, Saudi Arabia and US are funding Pakistan for different issues. Moreover, using her for different reasons. There is after all, nothing as a free lunch.  In my Op-Ed for Express Tribune, I had stated, “Shopping for a sugar daddy, Pakistan needs to understand that its interests and those of the sugar daddy may converge on some levels and may diverge on others. A pragmatic evaluation of the long-term national interest of Pakistan needs to be made in the light of the changing geopolitical scenario. Pakistan alone should define Pakistan’s national interest. When lollipops are accepted from a sugar daddy, there is always a price to pay. Pakistan must strive to build a balanced foreign policy, not based on imbalances. Imbalances lead to skewed relationships. Skewed relationships lead to an inevitable mess and inevitable messes to bitterness and mistrust. (February 25, 2014)

In the given geopolitical situation, Pakistan should have strategized and even now must strategize how to deal with situations within situations. No one would have imagined emergence of Iran as a confident contender with stakes at becoming a regional power, throwing off the shackles of economic sanctions and display of magnificent diplomacy to gain a firm foothold among the comity of nations. Iran has come a long way since her days of economic sanctions. US has recently announced buying of material used in Iran Nuclear Programme. Iran however needs a pause and think about the element of sectarianization of her foreign policy. It may have served her in yesteryears. Will it continue serving her in the changing scenario where she sees an increasingly larger role for herself?

New Delhi and Tehran have, over time, worked together on trade issues in Afghanistan. “Hamid Karzai visited Iran in December 2013. Both countries agreed to sign a “pact of friendship and cooperation”. This comes on the heels of a security agreement, which both countries entered into in 2013 to further enhance security cooperation. Trade between them is healthy and is expected to grow further once the Chahbahar Port becomes operative for heavier traffic.” (My Op Ed in Express Tribune on February 25, 2014)  As Pakistan’s Prime Minister and his family try to fight the Panama Leaks, holding the nation hostage to the drama unfolding, “India, Iran, and Afghanistan have finalized the parameters of a trilateral agreement known as the Chabahar Agreement, which will allow India access to Afghanistan via the strategically located Iranian port of Chabahar, which sits on the Gulf of Oman. The Chabahar route to Afghanistan will allow Indian goods to reach Afghanistan without having to first bypass Pakistan, which has a limited trade relationship with New Delhi due to diplomatic tensions and a territorial dispute between the two countries.” (The Diplomat April 18, 2016)

Then there is the relationship with Saudi Arabia, a certain coterie feels Pakistan should draw closer to Saudi Arab to balance a rising Iran. This will be a fatal mistake. No doubt, Saudi Arab can try to convince Pakistan that there will be economic cut off if Pakistan does not play along, however, the drop in oil prices, China’s rise and CPEC developing interests and a rising Iran free of economic sanctions seriously hampers Saudi Arab’s options. Pakistan understands this (thank God) hence resisted Saudi Arab’s pressure to join in coalition for Yemen, and maintained an independent stance in Syria, offering to play the role of a mediator.  This does not mean that Saudi Arabia does not have influence with Pakistan.  With the re- emergence of Russia many pundits predicted US was a dead horse now. It does not work that way. To pose a question: what lends strength to Saudi Arabia?  It springs from two sources; oil is the obvious one. The second undeniable source is the cultural central position it holds over other Muslim countries. There have been popular movements in the Arab world, subscribing to a more free world. However, the old orders are still strong and the newer ones trying to find roots too fragile to upset the apple cart in immediate future.

Then we have India. For India, Iran is a natural ally. The recent quick visits to Iran by India’s Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan on April 9 and 10 and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on April 16 on 17, India has made her stance clear of wanting a more robust relationship with Iran. India-Iran’s relationship has been sensitive to and on a number of levels been structured to counter Pakistan-Saudi Arab and Pakistan-China relationship.

The thorny relationship between India and Pakistan stretches back to birth of both nations.  This relationship has been brought sharply in focus by the arrest of Kulbhushan Yadav, a serving Indian naval officer and probable RAW agent. Yadev simply confirmed what was long suspected and spoken about in certain circles- role of RAW in destabilizing Pakistan by supporting insurgent elements in Baluchistan.

If the plate was not already full, Pakistan is fighting a war on terror, it has so far been unable to develop institutional structures, it has so far been unable to put many jigsaw pieces of the puzzle in place with military operation that are mutually inclusive and not exclusive of the fight Pakistan has on her hands. These include health facilities, a vastly improved judicial structure, and education for masses comparable to that imparted in private institutions, a chance to a better life to state just a few.

For a country that helped US oust Russia from Afghanistan, Pakistan has suffered for long because of the onslaught of terror within her borders- inept leadership has kept Pakistan from claiming a better life for her people and a strong standing internationally. Pakistan must strategize in light of changing geopolitical situation before it is too late.  I agree with Hussain Haqqani , former Pakistan Ambassador to US when he writes to me, “My question is: we were on the winning side in cold war but ended up without benefits of winning. How do we avoid a re-run of that movie? As psychiatrists say, the only person whose actions you can control are your own!”

Can Pakistan overcome the multidimensional challenges and turn the tables?

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book, ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media and Media Laws in Pakistan.’ Her mail ID is yasmeenali62@gmail.com  and tweets at @yasmeen_9

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