Nuclear Iran is not in Pakistan’s interest

Pakistan should do everything it can to prevent being sandwiched between two nuclear states.

Shahzeb Shaikha December 13, 2011
Since the International Atomic Energy Agency issued its latest findings on Iran’s nuclear program and activities, policy-makers in the West and the United States in particular are weighing their options on how to respond to Iran’s continued defiance of its Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations.

The Islamic Republic's nuclear program has possible military dimensions and its stated “peacefulness” lacks credibility. Alarm bells in Israel have been ringing for a long time and a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear sites seems imminent. Not much is being discussed in Pakistan about the implications of a nuclear Iran, precisely due to Pakistan being consumed by its own problems with the on-going political turmoil and its relations with the United States.

This is an alarming development not only for the geopolitical balance in the Middle East, but also for South Asia. A nuclear Iran is not in Pakistan’s interests. Considering that Iran’s regional interests do not align with those of Pakistan, a nuclear Iran has serious implications of greater belligerent behaviour, regional hegemony and bullying. Even though Pakistan is a nuclear state and any nuclear aggression towards us will be deterred, it would immensely reduce our leverage in relations with Iran—if any.

Being the only Muslim nuclear country, a nuclear Pakistan still has some symbolic value in the eyes of the Muslim world. Even though we are economically weak and, at the behest of foreign financial institutions and governments, our national defence posture will take a deep slide with a nuclear armed state on our western border.

The interests of Pakistan and Iran clash in Afghanistan, and Iran’s relations with our key ally in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, remain rocky. In the event of a military confrontation between Iran and the West, Pakistan and an unstable Iraq would be the most effected countries due to the spill-over from a potential war. At this time and most likely in the near future, at least Pakistan cannot further bear the burden of a refugee influx. In addition, India’s improving relations with Iran is also mind-boggling for our India-centric attitude and policy. Not that I am justifying this historic posture of ours, this attitude is still wide-spread in the security establishment. We must take that into account.

An ideologically inclined state, Iran’s sectarian outlook and ambitions of regional hegemony will create further divides in the Muslim world and the Middle East in particular. One should also not forget that Iran has played a role in inciting sectarian violence in Pakistan, supporting various Shia factions against their Sunni counterparts. Attaining nuclear status would strengthen Iran’s position and possibly its belligerence in fuelling the sectarian strife.

Iran’s offensive, nonsensical and aggravating statements and position only furthers the prospect of more wars in this region. Just recently, Saudi Arabia Prince Turki al-Faisal, who was the former chief of Saudi Intelligence, expressed the Kingdom’s desire to develop nuclear weapons to counter a future Iranian threat. “It is our duty toward our nation and people to consider all options” he was quoted as saying.

This is a serious development that could spark a potential arms race in the Middle East. We could engage in an intellectual debate about the rationality of these state actors and their willingness to use nuclear weapons—if they attain the capability—but the thought of them going nuclear sends a chill through the rational mind. Many in the West also fear that a nuclear Iran will become bolder in the use of its proxies, namely Hamas and Hezbollah.

It is imperative that Pakistan convene a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) to pressure Iran into abandoning its continued defiance of its international obligations - the NPT and the United Nations Security Council Resolutions. Pakistan, along with its allies in the Middle East, should pressure Iran to come to the negotiation table and respect its UN obligations. To avoid a potential arms race in the Middle East and a dooms-day scenario where there may be a nuclear exchange - either by states or through non-state actors - Pakistan should jump on the bandwagon into pressurizing Iran.

Pakistan could not care less about addressing the fears of the West. I suggest this because this is in Pakistan’s vital national security interests and everything should be done to avoid being sandwiched between two nuclear states. We also need to look out for our regional interests in the Middle East. A nuclearised region could have devastating human and economic implications for the region and the world. Pakistan cannot afford either in its current state of weakness.
Shahzeb Shaikha A staffer at The Express Tribune who is a graduate in the field of Security Studies from the University of Pittsburgh. He tweets @shahzebshaikha (
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Sarah | 12 years ago | Reply @Shahzeb Shaikha: Jinab there has been little discussion on this issue because a nuclear Iran is not a big issue for Pakistan's interests in the way you have put it (and another comment above says the same). Since you asked for a few 'intellectual' points of argument, and not ones based on ummah or emotions etc then please consider some very real flaws in your article's argument. 1) If you are accusing Iran of fanning sectarian flames and being ideologically inclined, why do you not mention our best friend Saudi Arabia (which is essentially a sunni version of shia Iran)? 2) Arms race in the Middle East began when Israel got its nukes and stopping Iran isnt going to stop that race since Turkey and KSA are already considering going nuclear. Turkey might eventually get to it sooner than Saudi Arabia coz Saudi Arabia are under USA's thumb for the moment. So lets not blame Iran for a mideast arms race shall we? 3) Your very first argument is that Pakistan's existing position of prestige as the only Islamic nuclear country will no longer stand if Iran also goes nuclear. To that I can only say that we have a very bloated superiority complex and are too self-important for our own good. The Islamic world today does not care and does not benefit from Pakistan's nuclear weapons because Pakistan is at its weakest and most unstable in its history. As someone rightly pointed out before me, Saudi Arabians look down upon us even as we puff our chests and feel we are the guardians of everything linked to the 'ummah'. Incidentally, if you are putting Islamic-civilization based arguments in ur article, why are you asking commentators to refrain from doing the same? 4) Strategically speaking then since you are a highly informed analyst - how many of our neighbours are we friends with? How many have we picked fights with? Our longest borders - the East and the West are hostile, why would anyone in their right mind create trouble in the south with a country which has not harmed us or our interests? Border security if nothing else, demands that we stop taking 'pangay' with our neighbours. 5) We provided (privately if not via formal channels) Iran with what their nuclear energy program needed and so, clearly the establishment does not feel threatened by Iran. Iran has never stood against our nuclear ambitions or even called for greater scrutiny etc of our nukes even though if it falls in the hands of wahhabis, they're in real danger. I think you need to sort out arguments and facts in an unbiased manner before writing a blog/article and then dismissing criticism as not being intellectual enough for your palate. Furthermore, Pakistan and Iran are energy partners and our economy is highly in need for stable energy supplies. If no other argument holds then do consider how rubbing Iran the wrong way could affect us economically.
Lt Col Imtiaz Alam (retd) | 12 years ago | Reply I agree with the writer. Iran is an Ideological State with a predominant Shia majority. Its Ideology is in conflict with the Islamic Ideology of other Sunni States. Saudi Arabia has not made any bones about it. Iran continues to threaten the Kingdom and bring about strife to the Holiest of all Muslim shrines where nearly 2.5 million Muslims undoubtedly Sunni's go for the Hajj , one of the Pillars of Islam. Iran is like an Island surrounded by Ideological Sunni States. It feels threatened by the Islamic Resurgence especially in Afghanistan.It is afraid that with passage of time the moderates will take over. It is overbearing when it comes to supporting Shia factions in other Muslin States. The month of Muharram is when it shows its muscle by supporting Shia organizations all around the World in taking out Processions etc. In Pakistan itself we remain shutdown for ten days. The 9th & 10th Muharram the State is taken over by them. Unfortunately those who talk about Wahabism etc have no knowledge of what they themselves are following. The writer has correctly pointed out that a nuclear Iran is not in Pakistan’s interests. Considering that Iran’s regional interests do not align with those of Pakistan, a nuclear Iran has serious implications of greater belligerent behaviour, regional hegemony and bullying. Even though Pakistan is a nuclear state and any nuclear aggression towards us will be deterred, it would immensely reduce our leverage in relations with Iran—if any. In case of a conflict with Iran & Saudia Arabia Pakistan will certainly fall with the lot of Saudi's and will be drawn in a Nuclear War.The present Govt is planning to help Iran in its Nuclear Program which will be a great mistake.
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