“Iran is the only country in the Middle East to have survived the overhaul of the Arab Spring... the rest of the power centres have collapsed. Iran [now] stands the most stable of them all,” author Vali Nasr said on Saturday. He was speaking at a session titled Fault Lines Across the Middle East.
Nasr said despite the many sanctions, Iran was still capable of fighting a war. “Even the US government had decided to end its policy of isolating Iran. The country is much more powerful in the region today than was expected,” he said. The Shia-Sunni divide is the real game changer in the region, said Nasr. Shias are suppressed in Saudi Arabia and cannot publicly observe mourning or open up religious schools, he said.
“If you are a jihadi, the place to be is Syria...that is where all the money is at the moment,” he said.
Discussing Pakistan’s dependence on the Arab world, Nasr said many Pakistanis worked in Arab states. Responding to a question on whether Pakistan’s pro-Saudi stance on the situation in Syria would lead to a reaction from Iran, Nasr said, Saudi Arabia and the US wanted Assad removed because they believed he was the problem. “Iran and Russia on the other hand, believe the real problem in the region is extremism,” he said. The reason why Afghanistan has survived over the last four to five years is because Pakistan and Iran were not terribly engaged in the country.
Nasr said, “There can be no stability in Afghanistan after the US pullout unless Iran and Pakistan work towards it.”
He said Pakistan should have supported Iran on the Syrian issue...it is in Pakistan’s national interest because Iran is a rising power in the region. “Pakistan should stop depending too much on Saudi Arabia and improve its ties with India through free trade,” said Nasr.
He said the Muslim world had become “more Muslim today” than it was in Jinnah’s time. “If you want to live according to the Shariah, who’s Shariah do you want to follow? Saudi Arabia doesn’t accept Shia law as legitimate Islamic law.” Nasr said the US did not believe any longer that the Arab world was so important that it should intervene there.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 23rd, 2014.
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