South Asia and Middle east relations or if someone intents to hutch it in more objective manner relations of Pakistan, Iran, Arabs and India to be precise is still a geopolitical trivia to say the least which has a long tainted historical back drop to it. To comprehend the modern morphs and behaviors of the dogmata and policies ruling elite of this region has forged for and against each other. One should take a walk down memory lane to clutch the idea of actuality of the matter.
For most part of known history Indian subcontinent and good chunk of Mesopotamia touching and curving Arabian Peninsula was something of a courtyard of great Persian Empire under the Darius and Xerxes. Later however, Persians lost almost their whole Mesopotamian sphere of influence at the Battle of Qadisyah against marching Arab armies of Islamic caliphate. It was not only an ideological and military defeat but also significantly cultural and ethnic fronts were compromised as well as Arabic replacing and restriction of Farsi to western outskirts of Sistan, something the Iranian dread to this very day. But for their own credit Persians never surrendered their unique tribal, ethnic and cultural pride within mainland Iran, they owned and nurtured it, like a ghost of a near dead ego haunting the vary minds and when it got the chance from 16th century onward, it transcended from ethnic and racial dregs to religious and sectarian fields under Safavid dynasty.
Similarly, Mughal Empire of subcontinent was hugely influenced by Persian culture. Humayun’s support and backing by Tahmasp was not just one King’s favor out of friendship and respect to the other but rather it was an attempt to make sure that someone who could potentially remind them of another Qadisyah should not stay in power next door i.e. Sher Shah Soori, backing and blooming proxies is not merely a 20th century invention.
Following the pretext now jumping directly to the present day situation, these excerpts of antiquity provide assistances in shedding meaningful light to quite a few modern endeavors shaping in the region. In the presence of such rigid historical fault lines of mistrust and over ambitions Pakistan to an extent has become a sandwich between Iranian overtures and Arab’s expectations. On top of that there is a resurgence of an astute entity in shape of India in east of Islamabad which requires presence of a constant checking mechanism. Indian dilemma or rather their phobia is motorized by an evident extreme inferiority complex of being ruled by what they considered as ETs for almost a thousand years, and for the first time in all those years Indians are enjoying few decades of considerable economic growth and global recognition. So now to fully capitalize on their window of opportunity Indians are in dire desperation to make it in the list of global big boys to compete with Chinese as US’s first choice but their problem is Pakistan.
Pakistan’s strategic partnership with China has hindered India’s options to challenge Chinese expansion and to get a land route to central Asia, therefore significance of Gwadar and CPEC in the whole paradigm becomes even more imperative. Commercial growth of China in Far East, Africa and even in South America has raised a lot of eyebrows in the Wall Street and Pentagon. At the same time Chinese motives and objectives near South China Sea are stronger and challenging than ever for Americans and their ambitious expansion to central Asia via Gwadar through CPEC will be icing on the cake. Americans querulously want to contain the dragon, they have done this successfully with the same wit when they were facing “The Bear” and are looking to merely repeat the same but the only problem is that this time around CENTCOM requires more logistic cushion. This is where Iranians and Chabahar come into play, joint Indo-Iran venture to “compete” and “neutralize” Gwadar, restrict China and subsequently jolting Pakistan’s frame of interest.
One should also remember this is not the first time Iranians are seemingly preferring Indian narrative over Pakistan. Who can forget the great diplomatic ditch of March 1994 when Iran backed out of a critical OIC resolution on Kashmir issue in favor of India? A joint resolution which in those days was shaping to enter Security Council and initiate UN sanctions on India over human rights violations in Kashmir. Because of her own wounds India’s old pal Russia was not in the position of vetoing the resolution, thus writing was on the wall until Indian foreign minister Danesh Singh on a wheel chair met with Iranian premier Rafsanjani, delivered PM Narasimha Rao’s letter and Iran opted to stay absent in OIC session making it a failure to make it to the floor and another historical moment to settle the conflict of Kashmir bit the dust.
Chinese cooperation with Pakistan has been yielded in the form of CPEC which is perhaps something as big and as significant in nature as Marshall Plan. It surely is a herculean proposition to develop a block which is connected not only from economic perspective but also aids the military arm of the participating countries. It certainly is a start of no easy days to the amusement of Americans, they themselves know that it is only a matter of time when Russians will come on board. Chabahar was enjoying less attention in pre nuclear deal days for same reason. US who responded negatively whenever there was discussion of Pak-Iran gas pipeline had little to no objection about India and Iran developing Chabahar. Clearly, the seed of Chabahar has urea of envy in it and now after release of decades old Iranian assets from Western financial institutions like Bank of England and Federal Reserve will be directly fostering Chabahar.
Before diving deep, let us evaluate how the state structure of Iran operates. On top of the food chain there is a strict religious monitory body responsible to review everything and can overrule any political or strategical move. Without prior proper node from those men in black there is little which can be termed as a collective conscious stance. Then there is the usual red tape technocrats bloomed from aristocracy which has an obsession with the concept of ancient Persian Empire and thrives on the idea of seeing modern Iran as reflection of her illuminating past while considering Islam as a product of times which washed ashore due to some obvious historical mishaps. The same bureaucratic factions occasionally efforts to wrestle for influence with a somewhat cohesive approach to form an alternative description, in doing so sometimes they end up in a collision course with the religious leadership, considering what has been on show for last 7-8 years especially during last phases of Ahmadi Nijad’s era which followed up in conclusion of the Iran-US nuclear deal. It seems that there is a policy shift and the later in discussion are gaining more power with every passing day, chants of Murg Burg America are now steadily fading in the shadows and a new or rather a refurbished Iran is emerging from those silhouettes which is now shaping to step back in to her old shoes to play Western watchman yet again to guard US interests in the region. Last time they were buffering as American’s front line ally to counter Bolsheviks this time around the same role is being given to keep an eye on that red China.
Chabahar is being mildly promoted by Indian and Iranians as potential competitor of Gwadar and to reduce the competition seemingly there is a venture in action to aspersive and sabotage Gwadar and subsequently CPEC. Kulbhushan Yadev’s business in Baluchistan was motivated by the same objectives. Something apparently went under the rug, Iran’s endeavors in Baluchistan are to an extent supportive to that of Indian agenda against Pakistan. Though Iran has chosen their side, it remains with us to make the right choice as one last attempt to inject some sanity into Iranian elite needs to be made. Despite all the “non-compliance” of the past from Iranians they need to understand that it is still in favor of the two countries to join hands. Policy makers of Pakistan need to engage Iran in a series of comprehensive composite strategic dialogues, explaining what the overall benefits of their complete commitment can bring to the broader canvas, elaborate what mutual objectives both Iran and Pakistan can reap if they profoundly join hands to challenge post-colonial tyranny. Iran shares more cultural and social similarities with Pakistan than India, both should sit together and discuss solutions based on commonalities, mutual understanding, accepting the mistakes and obliging to each other’s interests for a prospered future vouching not to let any villainous elements to forge its profits by swelling mistrust between Tehran and Islamabad. Chabahar can join forces with Gwadar and can even share routes of CPEC to central Asia, Iran can benefit more teaming with Pakistan than looking across to Delhi. Only Question is, are they willing to? Food for thought.