Eye-openers et al!

Potential danger exists of India deciding to use Chabahar to launch further intelligence-related ventures

Khalid Saleem March 04, 2018
The writer is a former ambassador and ex-assistant secretary general of OIC

Two recently reported developments deserve to be classed as eye-openers in the context of the negative impact they may possibly have on this blessed land and the surrounding region. The first that invites attention is the momentous news that a contingent of Pakistan’s armed forces is taking up responsibilities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The defence minister was reported to have informed the Senate that the Pakistani troops ‘will not take part in the Yemen war’, whatever that means. The defence minister, however, declined to share the ‘operational details’ of these troops in the kingdom. It was also stated on record that the contingent was ‘less than a division’.

The second development that might raise eyebrows — in addition to having the potential for far-reaching consequences — is about Iran and India having signed an agreement under which the former has agreed to lease to the latter ‘the operational control’ of part of the Iranian port of Chabahar for 18 months. Each development has the potential of developing into a ‘game-changer’ in the region.

At this point, a few facts would need to be put on record, among them the following:

The social fabric of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is in a state of flux. The Saudi social narrative that had survived from the day King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud took over, laying the foundation of ‘Saudi Arabia’, is no longer valid. The current ‘regime’ appears to be in a hurry to overhaul all the paradigms that had stood the kingdom in good stead for decades. As a consequence, all neighbouring states would be well advised to tread with caution.

Iran has for some time been in the midst of a determined effort to spread its wings. The ‘nuclear deal’ — that was knocked together after longish and delicate negotiations — now hangs by a thread thanks to the shoot-from-the-hip style of President Trump. The Northern Alliance that rules the roost in Kabul is in dire need of Tehran’s blessings for obvious reasons. The said Northern Alliance government that had, in a way, facilitated the negotiated deal with Tehran should be well aware of the consequences of its abrogation.

The ominous ramifications for this country of India’s control over Chabahar port would surely be evident to our whizz-kids. Apart from other considerations, it just will not do for Pakistan to overlook the ‘Jadhav factor’. Not to forget also that the Indians had a big hand in the construction — and financing — of the road link between Chabahar and Afghanistan; a link that helped create a transit route between India and Afghanistan via Iran, bypassing Pakistan.

There are speculations galore as to which region our armed forces’ contingent will be assigned in the KSA and more importantly what ‘operational duties’ are to be expected of them. ‘Protection of the holy places’ hardly fits the bill. For one thing, the holy places are hardly under threat. Nobody can even think of posing such a threat. What and who are they destined to protect, then? This should provide food for thought!

The foregoing, added to the potential danger of India deciding to use the Chabahar arrangement to launch further intelligence-related ventures ‘a la Jadhav episode’, should serve to keep our policymakers on their toes. As things stand, this volatile region is already passing through a critical phase thanks to the known propensity of the Trump administration to jump to unwarranted conclusions at the drop of a hat. Added to the evident efforts of the Modi administration in India to turn finger-pointing at Pakistan into an art form, the portents for regional peace are nothing short of being ominous.

Here’s wishing that the whizz-kids manning our Foreign Office, as well as the defence establishment, will have done the necessary homework. One might add the hope that their political mentors will display the gumption to make the right choices to avert the possibility of being caught on the wrong foot.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 4th, 2018.

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