The US-Iran Standoff Options for Pakistan

The US-Iran Standoff Options for Pakistan

The Iran’s initial attempts at acquiring the nuclear technology date back to the “Atoms for Peace Programs” of the 1950s. Ironically, it was the US in the framework of a bilateral agreement who supplied Iran its first research reactor in the mid 1960s.

Policy Perspectives, Vol 3, No.2


Understanding the US Perspective

The Iran’s initial attempts at acquiring the nuclear technology date back to the “Atoms for Peace Programs” of the 1950s. Ironically, it was the US in the framework of a bilateral agreement who supplied Iran its first research reactor in the mid 1960s. It is believed that after the 1972 oil crisis, the US aggressively pursued investment opportunities in Iran, including the sale of nuclear power plants. The Iranian ruler, Reza Shah Pehlavi, was keenly interested in nuclear energy and his government concluded contracts for the construction of power reactors and supply of fuel from the US and the European countries in the mid 70s.

Although, all these contracts were later cancelled once the Islamic revolution swept the country. The Shah made investments abroad in nuclear companies as well to ensure the supply of uranium and technology. Similar to Pakistan’s efforts, the Shah of Iran got trained a large cadre of nuclear scientists, engineers, and technicians by sending them abroad. On return, these cadres of well trained engineers and scientists were given maximum freedom for conducting research and advancing development. Iran became a signatory to the NPT in 1969 and ratified it in 1970. It signed the nuclear Safeguards Agreement in 1974.

At the outset, the ruling religious elite were not interested in pursuing the nuclear program. It was only after the use of chemical weapons by Iraq during the Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s that the decision to resume the nuclear program was made. During that period, Iran’s efforts at developing nuclear cooperation with Argentina, Spain and Germany were thwarted under the US pressure. Eventually, in 1990, an agreement was signed between Iran and the former Soviet Union for the Bushehr nuclear plant. Until the middle of 2002, the Iranian nuclear program was considered to be of little consequence and consisted of several small research reactors and a light water power reactor being built by Russians at Bushehr. The real friction between Iran and IAEA (and the US) arose in Sept 2002, when it was discovered that Iran had made advances in nuclear fuel cycle technologies.

Through the Iranian dissidents living abroad, IAEA came to know that Iran was developing an underground enrichment facility at Natanz and a heavy water plant at Arak. The capability at Natanz consisted of a pilot research facility that went into production in Aug 2003 and was suspended after two months but resumed working, along with a larger industrial plant capable of producing enriched uranium for civilian nuclear power and nuclear weapons simultaneously, in 2006.

The advanced nature of the program took the IAEA, the US and the Western world by surprise. The heavy water plant was a cause of concern as it was not required for the light water reactor at Bushehr and was used in heavy water reactors that bred plutonium from natural uranium and could well be used for the 40 megawatt research reactor having been built by Iran. The Western view is that the possession of both an advanced Uranium enrichment facility and a heavy water reactor could enable Iran to pursue both types of fissile material – plutonium and enriched uranium – required for the nuclear weapons. Moreover, Tehran’s ambitious missile program reinforces the West’s assumption that it is developing a nuclear weapons program in the guise of civilian cover. The supreme leader’s edict declaring nuclear weapons un-Islamic is not taken seriously by the West for it sees through a gap between the declaratory and operational policy of Iran.

The US, for the last few years, has been the real driving force behind IAEA in trying to persuade it to unearth the Iranian nuclear program and its true intentions. After several visits by Dr El Baradei and his staff to Iran in 2003, the Director General IAEA informed its Board members about Iranian lapses in reporting and evidence of undeclared nuclear activities pertaining to procurement, warehousing and manufacturing of nuclear materials. Environmental samples taken at the Natanz enrichment facility and the Kalaye Electric Company by the IAEA also revealed traces of buying enriched uranium from black market sources, which, at least initially, the Iranian authorities did not admit.

In response to these reports, the IAEA Board in its Sep 2003 meeting adopted a resolution that Iran, by Oct 2003, should extend full cooperation and categorically come out with all the missing details and demonstrate complete transparency. As a consequence, Iran suspended all its activities at the enrichment plant at Natanz, the conversion plant at Esfhan and also agreed not to import enrichment related items. Tehran also notified its willingness to sign the additional protocol.

Now that Iran has resumed the enrichment process, it gives rise to the international concerns that Iran is keeping its options open to develop a nuclear program, notwithstanding that Iran is entitled under article 4 of the NPT to pursue a civilian energy program. The wide divergence of perceptions has further aggravated the deep mistrust between Washington and Tehran. Relationship between the two countries is highly politicized and adversarial and many factors in the last few decades have contributed to this complex relationship.

The Iranians maintain that the lawful government of Mosadeq was ousted and the Shah of Iran was thrust upon the people against their wishes to serve American interests. The hostage crisis of 1978 in which the US personnel were held lasted 444 days deeply embittered their relationship. The US wholehearted support to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war was another important factor in Iran’s justifiable grudge. Both countries have constantly indulged in mutual recrimination. Ayatolla Khomeni branded the US as the “Great Satan” and President Bush categorized Iran as one of the three countries that constitute the “axis of evil”. Lately, President Ahmedinejad’s statement about exterminating Israel was considered explosive and highly provocative to the US.

Regime change as a matter of US policy, when combined with threats of military strikes generates insecurities in Iran and breeds mutual animosity. On the other hand, Iran’s support to Islamic resistance movements in Lebanon, Syria and Palestine and its nuclear program create grave misgivings in the US. The US perceives Iran as challenging its regional hegemony in the Gulf and the Middle East. From its perspective, Iran is aiming at regional dominance and initiating moves to alter the existing power structure in the Middle East. For achieving its strategic objectives, Tehran exploits the heavily tilted US policy of supporting Israel and the overall anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world. The challenge to the US would become more complex and dangerous if Iran acquires nuclear weapons. Apart from Israel, most of the Middle Eastern and Gulf countries aligned to the West would also be wary of Iran’s nuclear power.

Ever since the disclosure of Iran’s nuclear activities in 2002/2003, the European Union, led by Britain, France and Germany has tried to seek a political solution to the crisis in collaboration with the IAEA and within the overall framework of the NPT. The EU succeeded in persuading Iran to temporarily suspend all nuclear related activities that were to be verified and monitored by the IAEA. This was to be followed by negotiations to come to a long term agreement whereby Iran would give firm guarantees of the peaceful nature of its nuclear program in return for economic, technical and political incentives. On Aug 01, 2005, after 14 months of moratorium, Iran resumed its fuel cycle activities. The EU came out with another incentive-oriented package that fell short of Iran’s expectations. Tehran is adamant that it will not forego its inalienable right, under article 4 of the NPT to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

The US and the EU maintain that by violating article 2 of the NPT and conducting a clandestine weapons program Iran has lost its right under article 4. There is a nuanced difference in the US and the European approaches about Iran. The Europeans feel that Iran wants to develop a capability under the cover of its civilian program, which, if conditions permit it, could convert to a weapons program in future. The United States is of the view that Iran is already pursuing covert nuclear activities that are weapons related. Tehran is not prepared to accept the logic that violating safeguards implies that they lose their right to civil nuclear energy and in any case they maintain that the lapses and technical breeches have a basis that can be explained away. The US and the western countries are blamed by Iran for their discriminatory attitude and Israel and India are rightly cited as US favourites where different set of rules apply.

Russia has offered to enrich uranium for Iran and floated the idea of an international consortium for enrichment and fuel production. It wants Iran to ratify the additional protocol, and be more transparent so as to remove misunderstandings. China remains more discreet about its policy. Both China and Russia have developed close economic and commercial relations with Iran, have a strategic interest in its energy and mineral resources, and support a negotiated settlement. Both Russia and China oppose sanctions against Iran on the grounds that these would escalate tensions and eventually legitimize and encourage the US to use force.

The US, while earlier threatening to use force against Iran, is now relying more on applying economic and financial sanctions and politically isolating it. How far it succeeds is not certain as Iran is well connected globally due to its wide economic interests. Escalating oil prices have boosted Iran’s economy and it is now in a better position to absorb the squeeze from sanctions.

Bush administration’s recent offer to join negotiations with Iran along with the Europeans is a positive development and would help in reducing tension. In a way it is a shift from the earlier position when Vice-President Cheney had remarked, “we do not negotiate with evil, we defeat it”. The US participation and focus on diplomacy will give credibility to the negotiation process, as it is the key player in the resolution of the crisis. By joining the negotiations, the US hopes to soften the Russian and Chinese positions and also provide leadership role during the negotiations.

The US offer, however, is conditional that Iran suspends its activities. Iran, on the other hand, insists on unconditional bilateral or multilateral negotiations. By making this offer, according to Washington, “the ball is squarely in the court of Tehran and it is for Tehran to make the choice.” A durable resolution of the standoff could emerge only if both sides were to show flexibility. In essence, the standoff between US and Iran is political rather than technical and therefore calls for a political solution. The technical problems can be resolved once the political climate improves. To this affect, it is critical that both sides build trust by engaging in serious dialogue and avoiding the language of threats.

Understanding the Iranian Perspective

Agha Murtaza Pooya*

The term standoff suggests confrontation between the adversaries limiting them to petty bickering. But when a confrontation has cost humanity more than ten million dead and trillions of dollars wasted, it is not standoff. It is, in fact, a war and crimes against humanity. The so-called standoff can be better understood through addressing some fundamental questions such as the cut-off date this standoff started, and historical progression, its trajectory, its overall cost to humanity as well as how, and whether, is it going to end?

The cut-off date for the US is generally considered to be the year 1979 when the Islamic revolution enveloped Iran. The book entitled Iran: Past, Present and Future, published in 1976 and based on the proceedings of a colloquium in New York in 1975, however, takes the cut-off date slightly behind. The then Iranian Prime Minister Amir Abbas Howaidah in his paper said that the Shah suffered two traumas in his life that left an indelible mark on his thinking. One was witnessing the abdication of his father and his being brought to the thrown, and the other was the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971 while the US watched hands-folded. From then onward the Shah began to worry about his life and the country. Between 1975 and 1979, troubles erupted in Iran and culminated in the Islamic revolution.

The intent and content of the revolution, as enunciated by Imam Khomeini, was the salvation of not only the Iranians but the human soul — for a better life in the Hereafter. The political dimension of the revolution was how to thwart and destroy Pax Zionica — peace for Zionists, by Zionists and of Zionists. This continues to be the political force behind the Islamic revolution over the last 27 years. If one hears today calls for the destruction of Israel, one must not be surprised at all. This declared policy was facilitated by the continued US diplomatic presence in Tehran from February 1979 to the end of the hostage crisis. It should be noted that the Israeli Embassy was handed over to the Palestinians, in fact PLO, on the very first day — as the very first political act of the new Islamic regime. So, this is the political dimension of the revolution. It is this factor, and not the nuclear one, which has been bothering the US.

The nuclear factor is absolutely irrelevant because a threat of action or a demonstration of strength does not matter to the US at all. What bothers the US is the ideological bomb: The ideological fervour that was generated by the Islamic revolution and its consequent effects on the Afghan situation, on the Middle East and specially the Palestinian issue, which Imam Khomeini held very dear to his heart.

There is hue and cry on how a UN member state can be dismemberd. It is to be noted that the US once wanted to contain China, 1945-1971, but one good morning the US said, “good morning Beijing, goodbye Taiwan” marking the end of an era when Taiwan represented China. It is the change of regime — not the destruction of a country — that is required. Exactly this happened in South Africa. The regime changed in South Africa and the formerly pariah state now occupies a respectful place in the comity of nations.

The Iranian and the Islamic position and vision of Palestine are of a united Palestine. If somebody wants to live there, he/she is welcome but not at the cost of the inhabitants of that place. The original real inhabitants cannot be removed and dispossessed. The dispossession of five million people and re-colonization of the region is not acceptable by any canons of law and especially international law.

Now, we look at the situation from another angle. There has been a metamorphosis in the US position vis-à-vis Israel. Contrary to the common perception of the US-Israel relations, which holds that the US can never act against Israeli interests, it is not a very permanent relationship. The prevalent perception is a myth and a fallacy. Over the last 10 years, the US is working over-time, quietly and very surely, towards the dismantling of the state of Israel. The congenital optimists do foresee the emergence of the Islamic Republic of United Palestine and the non-existence of a state once called Israel after 2008. Yet some optimists cum realists differ on the timeline – not the subject matter: It does not look very possible by 2008, but by 2010 it is, yes, possible!

While all the noise is about the Iranian nuclear program, it is the Israeli nuclear program that concerns the US the most. Iran has never threatened the US by the use of nuclear weapons. Though the US violated the NPT and its spirit by threatening non-nuclear states with a nuclear attack a number of times, Iranians have never threatened the US, or any state, for that matter. Last year, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon publicly threatened the United States with a nuclear attack.

It has been reported that a few weeks before the 9/11, a very highly classified document on threat assessment was given to the US administration, which noted that the imminence of a thermo-nuclear attack by Israel against the United States surpasses any possible mischief from the Islamic Republic of Iran.

We have seen the US policies since World War II. From 1945 to 1971, these were about how to contain China, how to contain Communism in Asia. After 1979 till today, it is how to contain Khomeinism — instead of Communism. And the current standoff between the US and Iran is actually a battle between CIA and Shi’ia (the Shiites are referred through pun here).

What are the options for Pakistan in this situation? It is not the first time Pakistan, or some other country, is caught in “damned if you do, damned if you do not” situation. In 1949, when Pakistan was only a newly born country, it faced lot of pressure not to recognize China. It was also punished by the US for the pro-China position. It was all alone at that time, but today it is in a much better position.

The balance of forces as it was in 1979 and as it is now can be better undersood through a comparison. In 1979, Iranian revolution was neither understood nor acceptable to anyone. Iran was politically and morally isolated — if not in their own view, but in the eyes of what we call the ‘international community’. What do you have to do to belong to the ‘international community’? Occupy others’ land! India occupies Kashmir, so it is a member of the international community. Israel occupies Palestine, it is a member of the international community. The US wants to occupy the world, it is the leader of the international community. Iran can’t qualify to be that!

Coming back to Pakistan’s options, it is very simple. All it has to do is to live up to its principles. If it can have a principled foreign policy, it has nothing to worry about. Pakistan was under pressure and threat when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and the US was not still on its side. Moreover, the US was more interested in the Soviet Union staying on in Afghanistan rather than leaving Afghanistan. Also, the US got a Soviet ally in the shape of Saddam to attack Iran. While the cross-fire goes on, Pakistan’s choices are made easier and much sweeter, as the US is at the end of its tether.

Now, the US has been talking to Iran very actively for the last four or five years and coming to a historic compromise not only with Iran but with the Islamic forces in the region. Finally wisdom is dawning upon them just like wisdom dawned upon them in the case of China. The US will come to a historic compromise and Pakistan has been spared a choice of making any hard choices. Pakistan has played its card reasonably, wisely, without evoking too much antipathy from the US and has managed to level with Iran.

In the next few years, developments, especially the victory of Hamas, are going to change the political ecology of the region. It is going to have its voice into Turkey and into Egypt. There will be an end to Camp David, and the emergence of a Muslim block. This has come about through interplay of dialectics and Divine dynamics. The US is on its way to a historic compromise with the Islamic world and it will forfeit it and abdicate its relationship with Israel, and there will be no Israel after 2008.

Islamabad’s Response

Shamshad Ahmad Khan*

Historical Background: The new millennium, unfortunately, did not start well. The world remains burdened with the same old problems to define the “new world disorder.” The Muslim world appears at war against itself and is faced with a crisis of leadership, political bankruptsy, absence of global leverage, and perpetual subservience to and dependency on the West. Critical Muslim issues remain unaddressed. Iraq is still burning. Afghanistan has yet to breathe peace. Palestine is tired of unprecedented burials. Kashmir is devastated, and disillusioned. There is no unity of purpose in its responses to global challenges. Its leaders are too self-centred to re-order their political and strategic priorities. They remain averse to allowing institutional and attitudinal transformation of their societies to genuine pluralism and democracy. It is against this cumulative backdrop that our region and the world at large today are confronted with another crisis in the form of the current standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. This crisis is not sudden. It has a historical background rooted in the events of the 50s. It is coupled with the memories of the 1979 Iranian revolution which dismantled the US-installed imperial regime.

Current Crisis: Iran has one of the oldest nuclear programs in the region with a fairly developed nuclear infrastructure. Until this crisis began in the summer of 2002, questions were being raised only about Iran’s nuclear cooperation with Russia and the resultant development of the Bushehr light water nuclear reactor complex. Natanz and Arak nuclear sites are now the subject of the current crisis.

The West, led by the US, accuses Iran for not reporting these facilities to the IAEA as it was required under its obligation as a signatory to the NPT. Iran on its part maintains that its entire nuclear activity has been consistent with its NPT obligations and that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes alone. In its reports, the IAEA has also acknowledged that there was no proof yet of a military dimension in Iran’s nuclear program and that all declared nuclear material in Iran has been accounted for. As for the undeclared material and activities, the Agency remains the best authority to determine facts. This would require time as well as Iran’s full cooperation in establishing transparency.

Earlier this year, the IAEA referred the issue of Iran’s nuclear program to the Security Council, which can impose sanctions, after Dr. El Baradei repeatedly reported that although the Agency had not seen any diversion of material to nuclear weapons or other explosive devices, it was still not able to conclude that there were no undeclared nuclear materials or activities.

The UN Security Council met on 29 March 2006 and adopted a presidential statement calling on Iran to halt its nuclear work. On 28 April 2006, IAEA sent another report to the UN Security Council, faulting Iran for failing to meet demands to suspend uranium enrichment and improve cooperation with arms inspectors. The report marked the end of the Security Council’s 30-days deadline for Iran to demonstrate that its nuclear activities were only for civilian purposes.

The threat of Chapter VII action against Iran has been looming for quite sometime. Actualizing the threat, the US got the British-French combine to introduce a draft resolution in the SC on 3rd May, demanding Iran to stop all enrichment and reprocessing activities. Describing Iran’s nuclear program as “a threat to international peace and security”, the draft threatens unspecified “further measures” under Chapter VII in case Iran fails to comply with the demand. This resolution needs at least nine votes and no veto from any of the council’s five permanent members in order to pass. It invokes Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which can authorize economic sanctions or even military action as a last resort in cases of threats to international peace and security.

China and Russia as well as all the non-permanent members of the Council are opposed to the resolution. The chances of the proposed resolution passing in the Council in its present form are therefore very slim. The US has acknowledged that there are “tactical differences” among the members and says that it might take few more weeks to work out an arrangement giving Iran a choice between fully safeguarded civilian nuclear program or action by the Council.

The crisis over Iran’s nuclear program appears to be a crisis of choice, not necessity: Iran has repeatedly offered its readiness for dialogue. The US, until recently, was not even ready to talk to Iran and instead deputed the three EU countries to do so on its behalf. The EU Troika has now worked out a “grand nuclear” bargain with Iran to give up enrichment in exchange for some political and economic incentives.

The standoff is now in its critical stage. The US has said that it prefers diplomatic solution but it will not rule out other options. Iran says that its uranium-enrichment and nuclear research activities are irreversible but it is ready to negotiate. The US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, says Washington is prepared to use political, economic, and other measures and has “diplomatic tools” at its disposal to dissuade Iran from developing nuclear weapon.

Lately, there were positive signs of some hope for an end to the standoff. The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice claimed “good progress” at the latest meeting of P-5 plus Germany in London. IAEA Director General Mohammad El Baradei also said in Washington last week after his meeting with Condoleezza Rice that there was a possibility of a likely arrangement involving Iranian uranium to be enriched through an international consortium outside its territory for an agreed period.

Meanwhile President Bush has also spoken of “an enhanced package” of incentives for Iran to stop its uranium enrichment, “I thought it was important for the United States to take the lead, along with our partners, and that’s what you’re seeing,” President Bush told reporters. “You’re seeing robust diplomacy. I believe this problem can be solved diplomatically, and I’m going to give it every effort to do so.”

In a major policy shift, the US now says it might agree to direct talks if Iran suspends its enrichment activity. The Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, announced the U.S. policy shift last week while also urging Iran to abandon its ambition for nuclear weapons. Refusing to do so, according to her, will result in “international isolation and progressively stronger political and economic sanctions.”

There have been some tough statements recently, including the one from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in which he has vowed not to give in to ‘threats and bribes” and declared that any attempt to punish Tehran over its nuclear program would jeopardize oil shipments from the Gulf, and then a prompt response from the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice promising a tough international action if Tehran refused to scrap its controversial nuclear activities. These exchanges are in essence a “tactical” brinkmanship aimed at posturing prior to negotiations on the package being offered to Iran by the EU-Troika with US blessing.

The process at last seems to be moving in the right direction. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana was in Tehran this week to deliver a package of incentives and penalties for Iran drawn up by the EU-3 and backed by the US, Russia and China. Although the contents of the package have not been disclosed, Iran has described it as “constructive” although it still sees some ambiguities which hopefully can be clarified through diplomatic efforts. This improved political climate gives rise to hope for a political settlement of the issue.

The reports emanating from Tehran suggest that the EU package offers a compromise on the contentious issues raising hopes for the issue to be addressed diplomatically through dialogue and mutual compromise. Apparently, instead of demanding a long-term moratorium, the package asks for a suspension of enrichment — while allowing conversion — during the period that talks are to be held. Keeping the Iranian sensitivities in mind, the whole issue has been sent back to the IAEA from the Security Council which appeared to be focussing on sanctions against Iran.

Pakistan’s position: Prior to this positive development, the Iran-US standoff was a source of deep concern and anxiety not only for Pakistan but the world at large. Pakistan’s position on this standoff has been consistent and clear. It is opposed to resort to the use of military force or coercive measures in the Security Council under Chapter VII of the Charter which, in its view, will only aggravate the already troubled situation in the region, and will not be without serious implications for the world at large in terms of escalated oil prices and resultant economic difficulties.

Pakistan, as a matter of policy and commitment, is opposed to nuclear proliferation. But it also recognizes Iran’s legal right to develop peaceful uses of nuclear energy consistent with its international commitments and Treaty obligations. Pakistan supports peaceful approach to resolve this issue and appreciates the ongoing Iran-EU3 dialogue as well as the positive efforts by China and Russia in search of a diplomatic solution. In Pakistan’s view, Iran’s public assurances not to pursue nuclear-weapons program, and the general global sentiment including the commitment of all parties for a diplomatic solution should allow progress in that direction.

One can hope all parties will exercise restraint and flexibility and seek an end to this crisis within the IAEA framework through peaceful means. Iran must also alleviate concerns and doubts about the nature of its nuclear activities, while safeguarding its legitimate rights under the NPT. All outstanding questions, including gaps, if any, in the information about Iran’s nuclear activities, could be best addressed within the IAEA framework.

Security Council should act only to reinforce the authority of the IAEA. Any step beyond this approach would neither serve the cause of international peace and security nor promote the non-proliferation regime. Iran has already been under some sort of economic sanctions for the last 27 years. They have survived these sanctions and will survive any new round of trade and economic measures. The Europeans and the US are themselves not talking of oil sanctions because they know those sanctions will hurt them and their allies the most.

At best, some punitive measures could be graduated to start with a ban on technology with civilian and military uses, a travel ban on Iranian officials, a possible freezing of their assets and a ban on arms sales. There are always four or five layers of things that have to happen prior to some type of military action.

Unless there is a strategic mistake or miscalculation on either side, military conflagration is ruled out for obvious reasons. Both sides are aware of the unimaginable magnitude of this option. The UN Security Council may also not be able to act under Chapter VII, and instead may only find some common ground for a consensus non-mandatory resolution under Chapter VI of the UN Charter.

Pakistan’s Response: The available policy options for Pakistan in case of any military conflagration or punitive measures by the Security Council under Chapter VII of the UN Charter are hypothetical at this juncture because the ground realities do not seem to favour any of these drastic measures.

If at all there is any such eventuality, Pakistan will be in a very difficult position, and will have to face the brunt on account of its geopolitical location. Iran is its neighbor and a regional partner with historical, religious and cultural links. It has been Pakistan’s friend in need and a friend in deed. Both countries share a long porous border with a longstanding tradition of cross-border movement of goods and people. It will therefore be a great dilemma for Pakistani government and for its people to be enforcing any punitive measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. One thing, however, is clear: Pakistan will never be a party to any military operation against Iran. Despite pressures, it did not become part of the US-led coalition against Iraq, and will not become involved in any military adventure against Iran. This has been Pakistan’s consistent position.

In any case, Pakistan hopes that no such precarious situation will arise. But if the Security Council goes ahead with sanctions and takes a decision in which even countries such as China and Russia have concurred, Pakistan will be obliged to implement them as an obligation under international law. Iran understands its position. But the practical dimensions of this scenario are difficult to predict. There is no way to fence or seal long borders, not even those that the US itself shares with its neighbours.

Pakistan’s problems are no doubt complicated by the current regional configuration with Americans sitting in Afghanistan, the new ominous Indo-US nexus, India’s resultant strategic ascendancy in the region, its unprecedented influence in Afghanistan with serious nuisance potential against Pakistan, the Baluchistan unrest and the Waziristan turmoil. Pakistan is going through one of the most serious crises of its independent statehood.

In recent years, grave crises and acute problems within the region have proliferated in a manner that has not only made Pakistan the focus of world attention and anxiety but also complicated the government’s task forcing it to make difficult choices in its perennial struggle for security and survival as an independent state. The post-9/11 scenario has placed Pakistan on the global radar screen as “the hotbed” of “religious extremism” and “obscurantism” and as a country which needs to be reoriented both in its outlook and policies. This perception complicates things for Pakistan.

It was reported that Pakistan was ready to play a role in mediating between Iran and the US and so was Hamid Karzai while in Tehran recently, which Iran understandably rejected. Iran knows that “client” states can have no clout with the US to play any role on this issue. Pakistan would also be best advised to refrain from offering any such mediation. Whatever goodwill it has in Washington should be used for redressing its own grievances on being treated indifferently in recent months.

For a country, Skip to next pardomestically as unstable and unpredictable as Pakistan, there can not be many choices. Pakistan needs to overcome domestic weaknesses through political reconciliation and national confidence-building. The country must return to genuine and inclusive democracy rooted in the will of the people, constitutional supremacy, rule of law and good governance, and a culture of political consistency and institutional integrity. This is how it can correct its image and enhance its regional and global clout as a respectable member of the international community.

Closing Remarks

Khurshid Ahmad

There is a fundamental issue that relates to principled foreign policy and a value-based global system. It is not just a pipe-dream; it is, in fact, a necessity. The very survival of humanity depends on this. The brinkmanship and unilateralism, therefore, lie at the root of conflict, causing tension and posing threat to the world peace. The entire humanity is passing through a very critical phase. The standoffs, confrontations, and withdrawals are part of the game but this core issue has to be addressed though, ironically, the world leaderships are ignoring it. It is crucial to rethink as to what goes to make the ‘world community’. Does it mean the more powerful countries and governments? Does it mean the teeming humanity which is becoming increasingly vocal and wayward? And what role can they play in bringing sanity in the game of duplicity or double standards where only a few have the right to ignore NPT while others have to comply, and comply in a manner dictated by others.

In the post-colonial world particularly for this region i.e. Middle East, South Asia, Central Asia, West Asia – the plan was to have surrogates as regional powers for promoting the objectives, designs and policies of the United States. In this setting, Iran and Israel were two key players but the Iranian revolution totally altered this design.

This scheme is faced with another blow with the recent victory of Hamas that has strengthened the realization that even Israel cannot have its way merely through resorting to force on the face of the total asymmetry of power. The limits to power are now becoming clearer in the changing scenario. In the context of the hegemonic global strategy of the United States, and also the challenges to it, it is understandable as to why. America is not ruling out the use of force as an option. This is the usual way super-powers deal with such issues they do not pursue only one-dimensional strategy. They simultaneously pursue different strategies. Yet, it is becoming clearer that the use of force would be a disastrous option for both the countries.

The overall ideological situation in the contemporary world, Islamic resurgence, Muslim peoples’ concern to have an honourable space for themselves and unwillingness to remain merely at the receiving end of American and European powers permanently, cannot be sidelined. That is an important phenomenon, and if the powerful are not prepared to come to terms with this reality by ruling out the principle-based arrangements, the likelihood of extreme reactions would be looked at as natural product of this state of asymmetry of power.

What they call terrorism is a product of asymmetry of power and the realizations by the weak that if they cannot match power, they have to opt for the methods which can challenge the powerful. Terrorism is a weapon of the weak against the stronger. If the strong is not prepared to respect law, he stands responsible for the promotion of terrorism. This ideological dimension and the political dynamic have to be kept in view. The Muslim people are rising for a just solution of Palestine, Kashmir and other similar causes.

The other point relates to the immediate options before Pakistan and the Muslim world. In a scenario where use of force by America against Iran cannot be ruled out though it is becoming more and more difficult Pakistan needs a proactive foreign policy to ensure that America does not walk on the path of madness. There should be a positive policy objective.

It is unfortunate for Pakistan’s foreign secretary to say that if the UN Security Council imposes sanctions, Pakistan will have to enforce them. Despite the common knowledge of the obligations under different international agreements or regimes, the stance against illegitimate decisions even made by an authority which otherwise is to be respected cannot be at par with a legitimate decision. No principle-driven state can be expected of making such a statement except for the expression of weakness. There has been a degree of weakness and confusion in Pakistan’s policy. Pakistan, understandably, cannot afford to confront but it should not submit, either.

Iran will not be targeted alone. Any action against Iran would be an action against the region, against the Muslim world and against the global Islamic resurgence. This is about time to develop new coalition within the Muslim Ummah: Arabs, Iran, Pakistan, Turks. It is time to try to have a new coalition. As far as the right of a country for enrichment within the NPT is concerned, excepting a very red line, there is a vast scope. Japan, Brazil and many other countries have done that. If there are genuine threats to its security, a country has a right to have nuclear weapons as deterrence. But, this should be within a legal framework the IAEA framework. That is a country’s right and no conditions should be put on it. Pakistan was able to acquire nuclear capability for two reasons: regional South Asia-specific situation and the Afghan Jihad – else, there would have been pre-emptive action against it.

It is extremely important to ensure that any action, whether military or otherwise punitive, is not taken against Iran. Iran must not be left alone. That is in the best interest of the region as well as of Pakistan. This is how Pakistan can emerge as a countervailing power in the coming years, or decades. The overall scenario is changing but Pakistan needs to set its own house in order first, without attaining internal strength and stability, address domestic conflicts, ensure good governance, and a clear vision of the future prospects and alliances to play its role effectively.

* Lt. Gen (R) Talat Masood served in Pakistan Army for 39 years and retired as Secretary Defence Production. He is a noted commentator on international, defence and security affairs.

* Agha Murtaza Pooya, is the former Chairman Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. He was also the editor of the daily “Muslim”.

* Shamshad Ahmad Khan is former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan. He also served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations and in other important capitals including Tehran.

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