What will Iran do?

What will Iran do?
A continuation of tit-for-tat reactions could trigger an all-out war between the two countries, a risk for the entire region.

Imran Yaqub Khan

With the killing of General Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds force, in an American drone attack, the deteriorating relations between Iran and America have come to a head. Things will not end here, the danger of Iran retaliating with an attack of its own is ever present. A continuation of tit-for-tat reactions could trigger an all-out war between the two countries, a risk for the entire region.

The American Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has called important leaders in the region. On his twitter account he wrote that he had talked to Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and discussed the killing of General Soleimani. He also called up Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and talked to him about the same event.

Let us take a trip back in history to the immediate aftermath of 9/11 when Pakistan was dragged into the conflict when America imposed war on Afghanistan. Even now we pay the costs of those faulty decisions in the guise of terrorism.

Whichever country Imran Khan visits, he never fails to mention the statistics of what the war on terror cost Pakistan, in terms of money and human lives. He might keep those figures in mind when American adventurism once again lands the region at the brink of war.

At the time 9/11 took place, Pakistan was being ruled by a military dictator, who alone made the decision to drag the country into war, the wounds of which are yet to heal. One of the reasons given back then was that had we not agreed to become part of the war, India was ready to play its role, and America would have done to us what it did to Afghanistan.

Looking back at the impact of the decision of a lone man, it is worth repeating again and again, the future of the country cannot be left to the whims or wisdom of a lone man. The matter must be debated in parliament, and parliament alone will form a decision that will represent the views of the people.

Would it benefit anyone to argue now what India intended to do at that time? No. But it would be immensely informative to assess India’s situation today. India’s strategic and trade benefits match those of Iran’s. It is an important ally of not only Washington D.C but also Tehran. Just two weeks before Soleimani’s assassination, Indian Foreign minister S.J. Shankar had been on an official tour to Tehran. Bi-lateral relations and the Iranian port of Chabahar, which India had invested heavily in as an alternate to Pakistan’s Gwadar port. India had taken heavy concessions from America to invest in Chabahar, with the United States stipulating that no one from Iran’s revolutionary figures would play a part in the development of the port. With Chabahar, India had the opportunity to access Afghanistan and central Asia.

Before American sanctions, Iran was the largest supplier of oil to India. Even after the sanctions, America granted India the time of six months in which to arrange an alternate supply. After the sanctions were in place, American oil was used to fill in the space of Iranian oil, with now 10 percent of supply coming from the United States, valued around eight billion dollars.

It would be an understatement, therefore, to say now that Soleimani’s assassination has left India in a tough spot. Former Foreign Secretary India, Kanwal Sibal, has said that Donal Trump’s irresponsible action has forced India into an uneviable situation. He also said that as per international laws, the killing was illegal. It has put the region at risk, and India’s benefits will be harmed.

If the Iraqi oil route is disturbed, India could find itself in considerable trouble. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of Indians work in Gulf countries. In case of all-out war, these Indians would be forced to either stop sending remittances or they might even have to come back to their home country. The Iraq-Kuwait war made 170,000 Indians return home. In the current economic situation, where India’s GDP is falling and budget deficit is spiraling, a halt in remittances and a rise in oil prices could spell serious trouble for the Indian economy.

India will have to maintain cordial relations with both Iran and America. This might put its blossoming relations with Gulf States at risk too. Its dream of countering China with a new strategic partnership built with the help of America, might just remain that, an unfulfilled dream. The trade with gulf countries, valued at $78 billion, will also get negatively affected.

Thus India is, for now, in no position to offer America its cooperation against Iran. In fact, its first instinct must be to help diffuse the situation, come what may.

Over in Afghanistan, Iran is now considered a good friend. Even the Afghan Taliban have no desire to pick a fight with Iran right now. With over 12,000 troops posted in Afghanistan, America will face trouble bringing them home if the situation with Iran leads to further escalations.

So what choice does Pakistan have? The only right one, where it tries to maintains a balancing act between all its allies and neighbors. Neither can Pakistan afford to anger its Arab friends, like Saudi Arabia, nor can it afford to make an enemy of its next door neighbor, like Iran.

This is indeed a tightrope, but one that has benefits at the end. If it makes the right moves, Pakistan can bring itself in the position of determining America’s actions in Afghanistan.

Would our political parties and our politicians be in the position to make the right decision, as they did in Yemen? They will have to put personal gain and enmities aside, and that might just be too tall a mountain to climb.

The article was originally published in Daily Dunya Urdu.