Arab-Iranian dogfight for regional hegemony | Scoping Pakistan’s options

Posted by Admin On Wednesday, 11 September 2013 0 comments

‘The people of the Persian Gulf region will have to resolve their differences like a truly independent people unwrapped by the prejudices left behind by colonialism. Pakistan must keep a vigilant eye on such potential trouble spots; for circumstances could place her on ‘the horns of a dilemma’. She must work for the ‘reduction of tensions’ and make what contributions she can towards shaping peaceful co-existence among fraternal Islamic states.’
Prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto | ‘The myth of independence’ | 1969
‘The History has a bad habit of repeating itself, they say’ and those nations who disremember history are ‘doomed to fail’. Both of these statements have proven to be right and have echoed throughout the age of human civilization. The ‘quest for power’ and ‘establishing hegemony’ by all means and materials over fellow human beings, has been the purport of man throughout time.
Informed and vibrant nations, are always the ones who keep a close watch on the history. They consistently upgrade and upskill their communal ability to make strategic decisions in the light of the past. Future they say, is just a mere ‘reflection of the past’ after all. Those who undermine the importance of this process, lag behind and ultimately fade away as ‘irrelevant nations’, in the fog of history.
Today, Pakistan finds itself at the crossroads of foreign policy, as a ‘vicious dogfight’ for regional hegemony has unfolded between the ‘team Gulf Cooperation Council’ , headed by the ‘aspiring regional hegemon’ Saudi Arabia and the ‘team Iran’ and its allies, headed by the ‘aspiring regional hegemon’ Iran. Unfortunately, this ‘middle eastern cold war’ , is not being directly contended on the soils of either country, but is being fought in the neighbouring nations, with no regard to their stability or the loss of human life and property.
Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen are the countries where this ‘dogfight’ is revealing itself. This is where the people of those countries are paying with their lives, honor, money and property, ‘without knowing’ the real culprit behind their misery. Thousands of innocent men,women and children have already been killed in Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan over the past decade through ‘petrodollar funded’ campaigns of ‘multi axis subversion’ in those nations.
This doesn’t seem to bother the both ‘contending teams’ however, as its not their citizens being raped and pillaged, nor it is their infrastructure and state institutions which are being destroyed and its certainly not their state organs facing multiple stages of administrational and operational failures. This essay will, look into ‘how these two teams conduct acts of subversion, in Pakistan and in other countries’ and how Pakistan can tailor its strategic vision and policy to ‘survive the day’.
‘Team Iran’s strategy & goals’
Iran, by all means is an important regional power with big ambitions of its own. Iran wants to become the ‘hegemon of the Persian Gulf region’ by all means possible. Ever since the ‘holy revolution’ took place in Iran in 1979, it has actively been trying to ‘export the revolution’ to other neighbouring Muslim countries by all legal and illegal means possible. The goal of Iran is to become a ‘regional powerhouse’, which derives its power by creating ‘Shia proxies’ in its neighbouring Muslim countries which are funded by Iranian ‘petrodollars’.
Historically since the 1979, wherever Iran has tried to ‘export the revolution’, it has also tried to create a ‘fifth column’ of brainwashed, religiously indoctrinated terrorist outfits, usually made out of the young gullible Shia youth of the host countries. They are lead to believe that ‘since they are fighting for the Mahdi,therefore their loyalties transcend their national identity’.
In the reality though it is a tactic to create armed terrorist groups in other Muslim countries, who believe themselves to be ‘fighting for a religious cause’. In a fact they are nothing but a force of self motivated mercenaries at the disposal of the Iranian state for strategic power projection in the region. Example of these outfits can be found, in the Iraqi ‘Mahdi Army’, Lebanon’s Hizbullah , Yemeni Houthi rebels, Syrian ‘Shabiha’ and Pakistan’s ‘Sipah-e-Muhammad’ as well as the ‘Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e- Fiqa Jafriya Pakistan’ to name a few.
Since 1979, Iran has used these ‘petrodollar funded useful idiots’, with absolute impunity, with no regard for the host nation’s integrity,sovereignty or geopolitical stability. Iran has been vigorously supporting the Syrian tyrant, Bashar-al-Asad, even going as far as to sending its ‘uniformed soldiers’ into Syria and inviting its ‘proxy’ Hizb-Ullah from Lebanon to combat the Free Syrian Army. It has also, aided the Houthi rebels in Yemen who infiltrated into Saudi Arabia forcing the Kingdom to take a military action to lodge them out.
Its support for Mahdi Army to project power in Iraq is perhaps the worst kept secret. Iran, hopes to continue its subversive activities since it has the means and material to do so. Iran thinks, that it can become a great power by installing and maintaining pro-Iran govts in Iraq, Syria, Bahrain,Lebanon and Egypt. Once that objective is attained, it will further its ‘incursion’ into Saudi Arabia,UAE,Qatar,Kuwait and Jordan by using their internal strife as a tool for manipulation. If successful it will make Iran the ‘undisputed hegemon’ of the region. How ‘realistic & robust’ this strategy really is, is a question only time will answer.
‘Team GCC’s strategy and goals’
World’s largest oil producing nation Saudi Arabia along with its GCC allies, also have a strategy very identical to that of Iran. It calls for ‘using Islam as a tool for subversion’ to serve their ‘secular,political and economic objectives’. It has overtime, supported Madrassas all over the Muslim world including Pakistan, specifically built to indoctrinate young Muslims in ‘Salafist’ interpretation of Islam. Saudi Arabia actively funded the Mujahideen in the Soviet Afghan war for over 10 years.
With the influx of the Arab fighters in the Afghan war theater, the Salafist interpretation flourished in Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. Team GCC, currently is actively supporting the Syrian rebels, funding anti Maliki elements in Iraq, supporting the Egyptian Army which ousted a ‘democratically elected govt’ and has massacred hundreds of pro democracy protesters in the streets. It has gone as far as sending its military into Bahrain to crush the ‘anti govt protests’ there.
Saudi Arabia, supported rebels in Libya which fought a civil war against the late Col.Gaddafi. It is also thought to be behind the rather ‘swift’ change in the Qatari leadership as well as behind the ‘dubious’ electoral success of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan. Mr Sharif is considered to be a long time ‘friend’ of Saudi Arabia, and has long been bankrolled by the Saudi Royal family.
Saudi Arabia, is moving towards a non oil based capitalist economy. With its huge oil trade, and Iran under sanctions, it sees a perfect opportunity to ‘cease the moment’ and claim the lordship of the entire region. Its strategy is to ‘encircle Iran by all means’. This is why it has supported the anti Assad rebels in Syria, Anti Maliki elements in Iraq , Prime minister Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan and some also claim that it will repeat the same strategy in the upcoming Afghan elections, where it would try to bring a ‘pro Saudi’ govt.
Saudi Arabia with its GCC allies, hopes to make the most of the economic isolation and political stagnation Iran is experiencing right now, due to its Nuclear program. The goal of the Saudis is, to isolate Iran by supporting terrorist groups and religious fundamentalist political parties in the region to create a ‘Saudi Friendly’ political circle around Iran before the international sanctions are lifted.
It will allow the ‘team Saudi Arabia’, to become the powerhouse of the region,once Iran is contained, in diplomatic and economic aspects. It is worth noting, that this ‘power trip’ has ‘no religious agenda’, however religion is the tool both sides have ‘lavishly’ used to instigate violence to further their respective political goals. The outcome for ‘team GCC’ totally depends on how their subversive campaign turns out in Egypt,Syria,Iraq,Bahrain,Pakistan,Afghanistan in the long term. Time should be allowed to decide the fate of this venture.
‘Support for the terrorist proxies inside Pakistan’
In order to assess Pakistan’s situation in this context accurately, we must take into account the role of the Iranian and Saudi funded, religiously indoctrinated ‘terrorist proxies’ in Pakistan. Their role became very apparent when Pakistan was fighting for its survival in the soviet Afghan war from 1979-1989. During the Afghan Jihad, both states funded the war. Iran funded the Tajik Mujahideen, while the Saudis funded the ethnic Pashtun Mujahideen groups.
Once the war ended, the terrorist proxies that were funded by both states were diverted to subvert the Pakistani state. Iran by then had been successful in creating, the ‘Sipah-e-Muhammad’ and ‘Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Fiqa-e-Jafriya Pakistan’ as well as the ‘Imamia Student Organization’,which was created to provide ‘recruits’ for the Iranian funded Shia proxies. Throughout the 90′s Iran used them with impunity to create violence in Pakistan, in order to get a foothold to exploit in the future. Iranian support for these proxies is still active.
Saudi Arabia, on the other hand kept funding the fundamentalist sunni groups, including Lashker-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba. These organizations are behind the reign of terror that unfolded in many Pakistani cities. The Saudis also created and funded hundreds of Madrassas, which were used as an incubator for spreading the Salafist ideology in Pakistan. During the same time, Saudi Arabia recognized the Taliban govt in Kabul and continued support for the fundamentalist politicians in Pakistan, which is continuing to this day.
‘Dynamics of the regional security climate’
Currently, the security climate in the region is extremely volatile, thanks to this battle for hegemony between Iran and GCC. We have a civil war in Syria, extreme post war violence unfolding in Iraq, pro democracy protests in Bahrain, war in Afghanistan, terrorism in Pakistan and the bloody crackdown on pro democracy protesters in Egypt by its military. This situation is being fueled by both teams which are battling for control.This situation has created a very dangerous, hard to predict security climate in the region. Both teams are busy bringing down the existing govts and trying to install theirs.
In every middle eastern country, the fingerprints of this vicious dogfight are visible. Thousands of people have been killed and millions have been displaced or affected due to this rivalry. With a raging anti Assad civil war in Syria, the use of chemical weapons and a looming NATO strike on Syria has made this explosive situation more hard to comprehend. What becomes of the countries being subverted remains to be seen. Result of the Syrian civil war,Egyptian coup, Bahraini protests and the upcoming Iraqi and Afghan elections will decide the fate of this region.
‘Turf battle for power projection in Pakistan’
Ever since the Soviet-Afghan war, a turf battle has been fought on the Pakistani soil, by the both teams against each other. Every one of them have used illegal means to further their agenda in Pakistan. Pakistan is an important country in its own right, its the 2nd largest Muslim nation in the world and has the largest Armed Forces in the Muslim world on top of its proven nuclear deterrent.
Iran and the Arab camp have supported political parties, militant groups, lobbies, madrassas, and journalists to further their say in Pakistani political thinking. They have not spared any effort to subvert the Pakistani state when it suited their agenda. Thousands of Pakistanis have been killed as a result of this turf battle in the past. The irony is that most of the Pakistanis don’t even know how badly this subversive activity has damaged their way of life.
Apart from supporting the religious fundamentalists, some Arab nations have gone as far as supporting the Marxist mercenary groups in Pakistan’s Balochistan province for their own good. United Arab Emirates, and Qatar have been identified as the bank rollers of the banned terrorist outfits, like the BLA, BRA and BLF. For many Pakistanis, it is hard to believe that countries that they consider to be ‘friends’ are actually busy in fostering terrorism in Pakistan.
The reason behind this problem is that Pakistan has built a huge deep sea port in the Balochistan province with the help of the Chinese at a place called Gwadar. This port is strategically significant, as it is only 150 NMi away from the Strait of Hormuz. This port is being linked to China with a road and rail link, to allow China to trade and import oil from here. Both UAE and Qatar see this port, which potentially will be the largest in Asia in the next 20 years as an economic threat.
This perception has led them both to support the marxist terrorist groups in the Balochistan province. Rebellious tribal leaders have been bankrolled by these two Arab ‘friends’ of Pakistan. Their wanted leaders have been given shelter and transit from Dubai and Abu Dhabi. This is where they also receive petrodollars in order to pay for the 5000 or so mercenaries fighting against their own state. This conundrum has forced Pakistan to seek anti terrorism cooperation against the Jind-ul-Allah with Iran as a balancing act.
It is an extremely dangerous situation which can potentially damage ties between Pakistan, UAE and Qatar should these states continue their subversion of the Pakistani state. If Pakistan decides to add this aspect into its strategic calculus it will most definitely change the geostrategic dynamics of the region, which won’t benefit the UAE or Qatar.
‘Economics as a weapon against Pakistan’
Since Pakistan is dependent on the middle east and Iran for its energy needs, it becomes a viable cause for concern that these nations might want to use that energy card to further their agenda. It was recorded in 2008 when Saudi Arabia had refused Pakistan to provide oil, should a war with India break out. Since then Pakistan has been seeking alternative ways to fulfill its energy needs.
Recently, Pakistan discovered vast amounts of Shale oil and gas resources, which are thought to be enough to fulfill Pakistan’s energy needs for another 70 years. Pakistan has been actively seeking the Chinese help to install substantial nuclear energy generation capacity through a civil nuclear technology cooperation agreement. In order to safeguard itself from any oil starvation scenario Pakistan has decided to exploit its own Shale potential as soon as possible.
Pakistan plans to acquire a gas pipeline from Iran and Tajikistan to fuel its economy in the future, which will also mean less dependance on oil imports and affordable energy access in times of conflict and peace. Becoming energy independent has become a make or break deal for Pakistan.
‘Conclusion | Way forward for Pakistan’
Looking, forward Pakistan needs to stay clear of this ‘control freak’ Arab-Iranian rivalry. Pakistan’s best interests lie in becoming a state that has the capability to quell any foreign intervention, be it political or the use of fundamentalist elements as a tool for state subversion. Once Pakistan can control its internal security climate, it should work for its own interests. Pakistan should not engage in any future conflict between the Arabs and the Iranians, it must remain ‘strictly neutral’.
Pakistan is a state that has the values of friendship and common good at heart. Therefore it is required that Pakistan should always try to mediate between Iran and the Arabs, while living in its own limited capacity as well as within the fold of its own strategic interests. Any direct conflict between the two regional players including ‘hard power projection’ will have consequences for Pakistan too, therefore it is desirable that Pakistan maintains, cordial relations with both sides and try to end any possibility of a conflict between the two sides.
It is also the duty of Pakistan, to look after its own national interests and never sacrifice them for any other state. Pakistan should always think for itself first before any other state in the region. Given the opportunity and ability, Pakistan should work for better working relations with Afghanistan, C.Asia and Turkey in order to balance its geopolitical standing. Pakistan has been trying hard to become a permanent member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Should its application be accepted, Pakistan will find itself in a much better position to navigate the rough seas of the Persian gulf geopolitics.
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The Author is a policy critic.
Author can be reached at |
By Shahid Raza


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