February 20, 2019 | Daily Times

The visit of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman has further exacerbated the regional divisions. And before MBS set foot on the Pakistani soil, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, chief of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, only reinforced the regional realignments – particularly among the Sunni-Shia states. When addressing a crowd gathered to mourn the killing of 27 members of his force (on Feb 13), Jafari left little doubt about his country’s ever-growing partnership with India through the Chabahar port.

Although, terror group Jaish al Adl (Army of Justice), an outlawed outfit in Pakistan, claimed responsibility for the attack yet General Jafari chose to deliver warning on Pakistan for ‘inaction’.

Two post-suicide bombing events provide clear pointers to Jafari to deliver charged statements addressing Pakistan, UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Consider the following three, largely intimidating, pronouncements at one of two funeral ceremonies for the victims of the attack near the southeastern city of Zahedan.

#”Why do Pakistan’s army and security body … give refuge to these anti-revolutionary groups? Pakistani government knows where the attackers are harbored. Pakistan will no doubt pay a high price.”

#The United States and Israel ordered Saudi Arabia and the Emirates to carry out the attack.

“We will avenge the blood of our martyrs from the Saudi and UAE governments and ask the President (Hassan Rouhani) to leave our hands free more than ever for reprisal operations.”

“The Saudi and UAE governments should know that Iran’s patience has ended and we will no longer stand your secret support for these anti-Islam criminals,” Jafari said.

As if the Indian finger-pointing were not enough, Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour, the ground force commander of the IRGC in the border province of Sistan-Baluchestan, dropped another bombshell on Feb 18, claiming the suicide bomber was a Pakistani national. “Two members of the terrorist team were Pakistani and the suicide bomber was someone named Hafiz Mohamed Ali from Pakistan and also there was another person from Pakistan in the team,” Pakpour said, according to Tasnim news agency. Two of the terrorists have been arrested while one is still on the run, he said.

Well, that is quite possible. Lots of Pakistanis have been fighting in Afghanistan as well as carrying out terrorist activities against their own people. Thousands have been killed, injured or arrested in the string of operations that have gone on in the last decade or so.

Should one take these assertions by two key Revolutionary Guards commanders as mere emotional reaction to the suicide bombing or apply the geo-political prism to it?

One would tend to look at them in the context of the latter for various reasons.

Firstly, because the Iranians don’t want to acknowledge that their ‘isolation’ stems from their own self-serving views on issues confronting the Islamic countries. Why should Pakistan get sandwiched between Saudi Arabia and Iran for their rivalry that is rooted in the centuries’ old Arab-Ajam division?

Secondly, it’s the US-led west responsible for its economic miseries and political isolation, and not a country that has itself suffered immensely because of terror outfits. Pakistan has lost nearly 70,000 of its people, including nearly 6,500 army officers and soldiers. Why would it shelter or provide haven to such unwanted entities?

Thirdly, leaders in Tehran seem to forget that Pakistan gravely annoyed both the UAE and Saudi Arabia in April 2015, when its parliament voted overwhelmingly for the country to remain out of their conflict with Yemen. Pakistan as a consequence suffered both political incrimination by UAE as well as economically. The UAE laid off and sent thousands of Pakistani workers back. The UAE in particular displayed unprecedented displeasure, leading to a near diplomatic impasse. It took a while to repair these relations.

Fourth, Tehran expects solidarity but can offer little financial support or employment opportunities – both Saudi Arabia and UAE employ about five million Pakistanis. We understand Iran is itself hamstrung by US-Western sanctions, yet it hopefully recognizes that international relations, even among Muslim countries, are largely determined by mutual economic interests, secured through geopolitical alliances. Faith, morality or emotions hardly matter in such alliances of convenience as a firewall for respective national interests.

Saudi Arabian investments, if most of them eventually materialize, do promise an economic turnaround on the back of the CPEC-related projects. And Pakistan, after suffering economic stagnation that flowed from two geo-political adventures of the United States, has a great opportunity to coopt other countries into its economic development – something very much aligned with the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

All these years, Pakistan has striven hard not to take sides at the cost of one or the other country. It should still try not to offend or alienate Iran but geo-economic realism demands of Tehran not to look at the new phase of Saudi-Pakistan relations through the sectarian prism. Iran indeed was the first country to openly support Pakistan’s position on Kashmir and Babri mosque issue. But today, it maintains the best of relations with India – presumably guided by the doctrine of economic realism. It should therefore grant the same margin to Pakistan – which has begun emerging from the economic morass with the Chinese and Saudi support.

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