In the line of fire — again

Pakistan has decided not to take sides on US-Iran conflict, but it surely stands in the line of fire

Dr Talat Shabbir January 19, 2020
The writer holds PhD in International Relations from Quaid-e-Azam University and focuses on regional and global developments

Clouds of war loom large on the horizon following the killing of Major General Qasem Soleimani of Iran. The US eliminated the hero General, considered an ‘architect of Iran’s regional influence’, and the order came from someone no less than President Donald Trump himself.

Trump, as tweet by US author Kurt Anderson goes, was presented with rational options to tackle with the General and he chose to go for the ‘kill’. And why did the military officials have the ‘elimination option’ and left it to the President’s wisdom could be a million dollar question.

The President ordered a well thought-out killing of General Soleimani, who has been on the wrong side of the US for quite some time for understandable reasons. He has also reiterated that given the General was directly and indirectly responsible for deaths of millions, he should have been eliminated several years ago.

Nevertheless, the General’s elimination unveiled certain controversies that surrounded persona and charter of his duty spread over four decades. Looming crisis has caused ripples of uncertainty in international discourse on regional and global developments.

Ironically, countries have taken sides somewhere by being impartial and unobtrusive and somewhere by urging restraint and an immediate de-escalation of the situation.

The world has generally disapproved the act, and saner voices in the US too opposed the killing as it surely would provoke ‘dangerous escalation of violence’ in the region and beyond. On the other hand, Supreme Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, obviously angered over the killing, vows to take ‘severe revenge’ for the gruesome US act, resulting in a heated exchange of threats between Iran and the US.

Confrontation between Iran and the US dates back to the 1979 Islamic Revolution that put an end to the US-friendly regime of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. Forty years down the ladder, both the countries did not have formal diplomatic ties. Situation in the Middle East, particularly after 9/11, worsened and a continuous battle for expanding influence in the region ensued.

Trump warns Iran's supreme leader to be 'careful with his words'

One administration after the other in the US made concerted effort to retain influence in the Middle East with a view to protecting US interests in the region. Iran posed a major threat and became a key competitor for the US. With Trump assuming power, he orchestrated strong relations with Saudi Arabia, Israel, the UAE and various Sunni states to contain Iran’s influence. Iran however, under dynamic leadership of General Soleimani could successfully put US interests in jeopardy.

He supported anti-US Bashar al-Assad, helped Hezbollah to be a force to reckon with and defeated US-supported terrorists group from expanding influence in Iraq. Relations between Iran and the US

shall potentially worsen as Trump continued with his intimidating tone and ordered more troops to the Middle East. Iran, on the other hand, is mobilising public opinion to carry out its options.

The prevailing situation may not immediately draw global powers and major stakeholders such as China, Russia and the EU into the conflict, but an escalating situation may have a severe impact on China and Russia who have important stakes in Iran.

Pakistan has decided not to take sides, but it surely stands in the line of fire. That becomes a tough call for Pakistan. Belligerent India, troubled Kashmir, hostile Afghanistan, economic woes and a lot more that Pakistan is grappling with, warrant Pakistan to tread with care and restraint.

Understandably, certain diplomatic and economic considerations may draw Pakistan into this quagmire but restraint would be the best way out. Though you pay the price, when you are in the line of fire.

The Published in The Express Tribune, January 19th, 2020.

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