Recently, the Presidents of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan gathered in Islamabad to seek ways and means to wriggle out of asymmetric American pressures. It is because the three countries have run into many difficulties in the context of their bilateral relations with the US. Although these states have followed different models of bilateral interactions with it, the end results are almost identical!
Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has persistently followed an approach of comprehensive defiance. At the strategic level, it almost considers/treats Israel as an American state. This confrontational approach has resulted into a perpetual arm-twisting spree by Washington. In the process, the multi-stepped unilateral sanctions unleashed on Iran have reached a point of diminishing returns, whereby even close American allies feel uncomfortable to abide by its sanctions.
Unfortunately, a negative perception has been created against the Iranian nuclear programme. Despite Iran’s pragmatism during the NPT Review Conference 2010, and its cooperation in going along a Turkish-Brazilian initiative to resolve the issue of nuclear fuel swap, America continues to portray it as a violator of NPT obligations. Further, the US and Israeli sabre-rattling on nuclear issues crosses all limits of decency with naked threats to use military force to destroy its nuclear facilities. In a ‘couldn’t care less’ approach, however, Iran has achieved the expertise of enriching uranium up to the critical 20 percent benchmark.
But Afghanistan is following a path of total compliance; President Hamid Karzai is persistently facilitating the longevity of the occupation forces’ presence in Afghanistan. He is also conniving with the American administration to keep its troops on the Afghan soil by promising to provide military bases to them. Despite such obedience, the US has ditched him and is directly talking with their sworn enemies - the Taliban. Feeling left out, the Afghan President has disowned the Doha peace process and has demanded holding of the talks with the Taliban in Turkey or Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, Pakistan has been following a policy of tactical compliance and strategic defiance. This has resulted in increasing mistrust between America and Pakistan. The Pakistani government is stuck in the void between its policy of US appeasement and the overwhelming anti-American public sentiment. The duplicity on drone policy has eroded its credibility. The Abbottabad and Salalah attacks have tarnished the public image of the military leadership as well, which has generated a sense of insecurity among the people at large.
Despite varying trajectories, however, the three countries have met the same fate: Steamrolling of their core national interests by America. Hence, by default, they emerge as natural allies.
Against this backdrop, the three heads of states held a summit in Islamabad. They pledged to enhance cooperation among their countries, comprehensively for realising the shared aspiration of their people for peace, security, stability and economic prosperity. They agreed “not to allow any threat emanating from their respective territories against each other”, “vowed to contribute to the development and reconstruction in Afghanistan”, and “emphasised the need for enhancing their cooperation at international level.”
The Presidents of Iran and Pakistan reiterated “their full support for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process of peace and reconciliation”, assured Karzai that they “would extend full cooperation”, and stressed that any initiative in this regard must have authentic Afghan ownership. President Ahmadinejad opined: “The problems confronting the three countries have been imposed on the region from outside and need collective action for overcoming them.” President Zardari maintained: “Pakistan would not provide any bases to the United States for military action in Iran, and would go ahead with the IP gas pipeline project.” While President Karzai assured an “all-out support for early completion of CASA 1,000 and TAPI projects.”
Needless to say, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan house big chunks of Baloch population. It is not a mere coincidence that on the day of this trilateral summit, Representative Rohrabacher (who arranged the recent drama of Congressional hearing on Balochistan), along with Representatives Gohmert and King, submitted a resolution to the House of Representatives “seeking the right to self-determination for the people of Balochistan.”
Excerpts from the resolution are included that are quite interesting: “Whereas the people of Balochistan have maintained a proud and distinctive national, cultural and religious identity dating back to ancient times.......in 1666, the Baloch Khanate of Kalat was founded which functioned as an independent, sovereign country......in the 19th century, the Baloch people were conquered and divided by the imperialist expansion of Persia (Iran) and the British Empire; whereas, on August 15, 1947, the Khan of Kalat declared independence, only to have Baloch aspirations crushed by an invasion by Pakistan in April 1948.......revolts in 1958, 1973 and 2005 indicate continued popular discontent against rule by Islamabad, and the plunder of its vast natural wealth, while Balochistan remains the poorest province in Pakistan; whereas, a popular insurgency is also underway in Sistan-Balochistan and being met by brutal repression by the dictatorship in Iran which has added religious bigotry to tyranny; and whereas, it is the policy of the United States to oppose aggression and the violation of human rights inherent in the subjugation of national groups as currently being shown in Iran and Pakistan against the aspirations of the Baloch people: Now, therefore, be it ‘resolved’ by the House of Representatives.......that the people of Balochistan, currently divided between Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan, have the right to self-determination and to their own sovereign country and they should be afforded the opportunity to choose their own status among the community of nations, living in peace and harmony, without external coercion.”
The Khan of Kalat (of 1948) narrated in his autobiography that he joined Pakistan as an article of faith, since he experienced a vision in which the Holy Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) directed him to join it. Thereafter, he sought an appointment with Quaid-i-Azam, who met him despite severe illness. In that meeting, the Khan requested him to merge his Khanate with Pakistan! So, the present Khan of Kalat needs to read that book!
There is ample evidence that the Balochistan issue is being highlighted to pressurise Pakistan to provide America with monitoring facilities alongside the Iranian border. President Zardari, thus, made a pertinent announcement on the eve of the summit that Pakistan will not provide any military bases to America that could be used against Iran. Hopefully, the process of cooperation between Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan will continue despite USA’s coercive diplomacy. Indeed, the three countries are vital actors in the Afghan endgame; they need to move forward to resolve all outstanding issues and restore regional peace.
The writer is a retired Air Commodore and former assistant chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force. At present, he is a member of the visiting faculty at the PAF Air War College, Naval War College and Quaid-i-Azam University.