by Mirza Aslam Beg (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 11, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1435)
By opening up to Islamic Iran, US Secretary of State John Kerry may have started a process that would benefit many countries and may even lead to peace and stability in the region.
For several years the United States had been seeking an honourable exit from Afghanistan as the end game nears in 2014. Various options were exercised to determine a suitable course of action, but they failed. It was John Kerry, a war veteran and astute diplomat, who in a short period of a few months has been able to strike a deal with Iran on the nuclear issue, achieving consensus of all those who mattered. The deal promises a safe exit for US forces from Afghanistan. It also opens opportunities for peace in the region ushering in a new world order particularly after shifting of the Strategic Pivot to Asia Pacific where a new “coalition of the willing” has been formed to contain and curb the rising economic and military power of China.
The US-Iran deal is a landmark development although with only a six-month life span at present. It has to be confirmed beyond this timeline along the Iranian red line of retaining the heavy water reactor at Arak, the enrichment facility near Qom and their need for 20% enriched uranium for medical isotopes. The opportunities and advantages out-weigh all other considerations to confirm and mature the deal that could alter the geo-strategic balance from the Mediterranean to Asia Pacific.
After confirmation of this deal, US and NATO forces may find a safe exit through Iran. The existing land and rail roads and the seaports of Bandar Abbas and Chabahar will open up trade routes to Afghanistan and the Central Asian region. It will not undermine the importance of existing routes through Pakistan, particularly after extension of the railway track to Kashghar. This would help achieve economic and social integration of the Central Asian region that has been kept landlocked by the colonial and neocolonial powers that occupied and ravaged the region for their imperial designs.
Having fought two humiliating and expensive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US has no stomach to launch another one. The failure and defeat of the past three decades have degraded the US’ status as a superpower, forcing smaller powers to adjust their priorities to suit their own national interests. Consequently, Kerry is engaged in long protracted negotiations with Iran, Syria and Palestine and he is likely to succeed. The emerging coalition of the US, India and Iran would therefore act as a counterweight to warmongers in a manner that Syria has been saved from such a catastrophe by Russia.
This is not an ordinary development as Russia has re-emerged as a global power in the Muslim East theatre — reminiscent of the Cold War period balance of power phenomenon, which was lost in 1990s. As a consequence of that loss, the Muslim World suffered from aggression at the hands of Western powers causing death and destruction in such places as Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Somalia, Lebanon, Palestine and Kashmir. The emerging balance of power would help check aggression and help the cause of peace in the region as well the world at large.
At the other end of the spectrum, Israel is apprehensive about Iran’s emergence as a regional power and is trying to scuttle the deal so as to keep Iran boxed in, isolated, without friends and artificially weakened. However, American policy in the Muslim East is undergoing change for the better for Iran as well as the Palestinian cause. US-Saudi relations also would undergo change, impacting developments in the Muslim East and Egypt in particular in this period of meltdown.
It could also help quell the existing Shi‘i-Sunni conflict which has caused division, instability and bloodletting in the Muslim World. America’s release of $7 billion of Iran’s frozen assets will be a healthy sign. Hopefully sanctions would be gradually eased in order to foster better relations with Iran. A friendly Iran could help the US find peace in Afghanistan because it holds considerable influence over the Northern Alliance and together with Pakistan, can help the Afghans form a broad-based and stable government. The understanding with Iran can open many doors. No settlement is possible in Afghanistan and Syria without Iranian support. It is essential that mistakes of the past, of keeping Afghanistan destabilized, are not repeated.
Pakistan would stand to gain as Iran shakes off a quarter century of coercion through embargos, sanctions and the induced war with Iraq. In fact, Iranian gains would add to Pakistan’s strength as well as regional peace. The US-Iran deal also vindicates Iranian assertion that their quest for nuclear energy is only for peaceful purposes. Except for the assumptions and speculations of vested interest groups, no contrary evidence has been found.
Opening the route through Iran would create a healthy and competitive economic environment in the region. In fact the parallel trade routes through Iran and Pakistan would accelerate the process of opening up the landlocked region. India prefers the Iranian route. Thus Pakistan need not grant Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India and transit trade facilities to Afghanistan. There is no denying the fact that Pakistan’s trade routes to Afghanistan are the shortest and with the opening of trade corridor to China the connectivity with China and Central Asia would be a blessing. Pakistan must liberalize its trade with Afghanistan and Central Asia, supported by trade and tariff rules to properly manage the expanding trade.
This is a remarkable turn of events that opens up new vistas of opportunity. If carefully handled, it will provide economic gains and could help establish the much needed balance of power to deter aggression. In fact, a multi-polar world order is emerging with new centers of geo-economic powers determining their role as partners in various coalitions. The notion of superpowers, dominating the world is dying its natural death.
General Mirza Aslam Beg is former Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan and currently head of the foundation, FRIENDS in Islamabad.