Turmoil in Islamic World Puts Pakistan in a Spot
As the US and its allies seek new openings for normalising relations with Iran and turmoil engulfs the Arab world in Syria, Egypt, Iraq and elsewhere, the normally reticent, low-key and cautious Saudis are now more visible and assertive. They are now dealing with troublesome neighbours like Qatar firmly and bluntly and even co-opting other neighbours for withdrawing their ambassadors from a fellow member of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz paid high-profile visits to Pakistan, India and China recently. Defence, energy and investment ties were boosted. While Asian countries have steered clear of getting involved in Arab-Persian rivalries, it now appears clear that Pakistan has joined Saudi Arabia in moves to oust the Iranian and Russian-backed and Shia-dominated Assad government in Syria. The Saudi-Pakistan joint declaration called for “forming a transitional governing body (in Syria) with full executive powers”.
Just after the visit of the Crown Prince, Pakistan received an unprecedented Saudi “grant” of $1.5 billion. There are indications that arms manufactured in Pakistan will soon be in the hands of Salafi-oriented groups in Syria. Pakistan has also announced that it will not be going ahead with implementation of an agreement for completing construction of an Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline.
An infuriated Iran has threatened to sue Pakistan for breach of contract. Tensions on the Iran-Pakistan border recently escalated when a Pakistan-based Sunni extremist group kidnapped Iranian border guards. Pakistan now has the dubious distinction of it’s so-called “non-State actors” promoting violence and terrorism in all three neighbours, with which it shares land borders.
Given its precarious balance of payments position, Pakistan desperately needs foreign aid, especially from western donors. It has been forced to assure the IMF that it will adopt a non-discriminatory approach on trade with India, in a phased manner. Western donors, led by the US, are mounting the heat on Pakistan, insisting it should normalise trade and economic relations with India, in its own interest. This, however, is easier said than done as Pakistan’s omnipotent military establishment and its “assets” like Hafeez Mohammed Saeed seem to believe that they are doing India a great favour by normalising trade ties. Then there are others who believe that normalising of trade relations should be directly linked to resumption of the composite dialogue and resolution of the Kashmir issue.
It is crucial that rather than appearing to be pleading for better trade ties, India should adopt a more dignified approach. Pakistan should be told that while normalisation of trade ties is welcome, we can live quite comfortably, even if it chooses to stick to its present path.
A fresh controversy has arisen in Pakistan amid reports that the World Bank is prepared to cooperate in a project that will enable Pakistan to import 1,200MW of power from India. The public reaction to an article in a Pakistani English daily to the proposal was fascinating. It revealed how the public mood in Pakistan, has been vitiated by anti-Indian propaganda, unleashed by the Pakistani military and its assets like Saeed and the Jamaat-e-Islami.
One typical letter to the editor read: “This is a conspiracy by India to sell electricity that would be rigged to electrocute innocent Pakistanis.” Another worthy proclaimed: “It will be bad quality electricity.” The most typical was a letter that said: “We really should not be dealing with the Devil. The money we pay will be used by RAW to destabilise the country.” But, some still retain a sense of humour in Pakistan. One writer noted: “But it would be Hindu electricity. Should I pay my bills if I find that the connection is coming from Hindus? Should mosques be connected to this source of electricity? I am confused and must ask my elders.”