International relations: ‘Saudi-Iranian war has spilled out into Pakistan’

Vali Nasr talks on US foreign policy and Pakistan’s ‘fascination’ with the Arab world.

Aroosa Shaukat February 22, 2014
Vali Nasr talks on US foreign policy and Pakistan’s ‘fascination’ with the Arab world.


“Diplomacy was what ensured preservation of what was left between the US and Pakistan [relations]… the three bangs on the table didn’t work,” Vali Nasr, a former senior adviser with the US State Department, said on Friday.

He was speaking at the launch of his book, The Dispensable Nation, at the concluding session on the first day of the Lahore Literary Festival. The session was moderated by historian Ayesha Jalal.

Nasr said he felt there was more room for better relations between the US and Pakistan after US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

He said, “Early on, the biggest challenge for the Obama administration was to get the Pakistani government to view Karzai’s government as good for Pakistan.”

He said it was also important to understand that Pakistan and the US had different national security interests in Afghanistan.

“While their [US] foreign policy is impatient, it seems to simultaneously be dealing with countries that have a completely different concept of time.” This, he felt, also posed a hindrance in ensuring better foreign relations.

Replying to a question about whether it was possible to call US as a dispensable nation any time soon, he said a rapid departure from a world where the US is deeply embedded in all facets of life and politics would cause great instability.

Talking about US sanctions on Iran, he said the purpose of the US sanctions was to ensure Iran came to table or that it gave up its nuclear programme.

“There are many in the US who believe that the purpose of the sanctions is to ensure Iran surrenders its nuclear programme,” he said.

Nasr said he believed that the war of supremacy between Saudia Arabia and Iran was over 30-years-old and had grown even more intense over the years with both the countries claiming Islamic supreme leadership.

“The Shia-Sunni rivalry is a very real thing which is now being accepted in the Arab world.” This dimension, he added, further complicated the situation with the conflict spilling over in Pakistan.

“The Saudis and the Iranians went to war in Pakistan… that too through Friday prayers sermons,” he added.

Nasr said Iran pumped in money to Shia groups in Pakistan while Sunni groups were being funded by Saudi Arabia.

The calculus of numbers in Pakistan, being against Iran, he said while the latter lost - the cost of which was the rise of the Taliban and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. “These groups were about creating a military resistance to Iran… but the Saudis learnt the wrong lesson…through pumping in money to Sunnis to think and become more hardened Sunnis, they become less tolerable to Shias.”

Nasr said he believed this was now being played out in Syria.

But despite this, Nasr identified Pakistan as a Muslim country, where even though the Shia population is in the minority, they have held important and influential positions in the running of the state.

“There is an argument that Shias haven’t been as disfranchised in Pakistan as in other [Muslim] countries.” He said the Middle East ‘fascination’ in Pakistan boggled him. “I cannot understand this fascination…the best thing for Pakistan would be to ties with the Middle East and focus on establishing its economic standing.”

Pakistan should look up to countries it could relate to, Nasr said to an applauding audience.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2014.


Hsaka | 7 years ago | Reply @Akash: Yes we know all that, but that doesn't mean we have anything else in common with Indians or that we want to have anything to do with you other than tolerate you just because you are our neighbors. You Indians need to accept Pakistan's existence and respect whatever national direction it takes, and just get over 1947 and stop harboring your latent dreams of reabsorbing us (yes you definitely do have those dreams). Peace and have a good day.
Akash | 7 years ago | Reply

Facing up to the past might help. The region of Pakistan had embraced various religions during the millenia - they were Buddhists, Hindus and subsequently Muslims. Knowing this does not make anybody a less of a Muslim. It is like knowing our roots. Pakistanis are not of Arab origin as a lot of "neo-historians" like Zaid Hamid and Fareed Paracha would like to claim. Genetically they're almost identical to Indians living in the north.

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