General Mirza Aslam Beg
For the last several years the United States had been seeking a respectable exit from Afghanistan, as the end game was nearing in 2013-14. Various options were exercised to determine a suitable course of action, but failed. It was John Kerry, a war veteran and an astute diplomat, who in a short period of few months, was able to strike a deal with Iran on the nuclear issue, achieving consensus of all who mattered. The deal promises a safe exit from Afghanistan and opens up opportunities for peace in the region and a new world order, particularly after shifting of the Strategic Pivot to the Asia Pacific, where a new “coalition of the willing” has been formed to contain and curb the threat of rising economic and military power of China. The US-Iran deal is a landmark development, with a six months life only, to be confirmed beyond this time-line, along the Iranian red-line of retaining the heavy water reactor at Arak, the enrichment facility near Qum and their need for 20% enriched uranium for medical isotopes. The opportunities and the advantages, out-weigh all considerations to confirm and mature the deal that could alter the geo-strategic balance from the Mediterranean to the Asia Pacific.
After the confirmation of this deal, the US and NATO forces will find a safe exit through Iran. The existing land and rail roads and the sea-ports of Bandar Abbas and Chabahar will open up the trade-routes to Afghanistan and to the Central Asian region. It will not, in any way minimize the importance of the existing routes through Pakistan, particularly after the extension of the railways to Kashghar, that would help achieve economic and social integration of the Central Asian region, which has remained land locked by the colonial powers and the neo-colonials, who occupied and ravaged this region, for their imperial designs.
After having fought two humiliating and expensive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, USA does not want to be engaged in another war. The failure and defeat of the past three decades, has degraded the status of US as a super power, forcing the smaller powers, to adjust their priorities to suit their national interests. Consequently, John Kerry is engaged in long protracted negotiations with Iran, Syria and Palestine and for sure he will succeed. The emerging coalition of USA, India and Iran would therefore act as a counter-check on war mongers, in a manner that Syria has been saved from such a catastrophe by Russia. This is not an ordinary development as Russia has arrived as a global power on the Middle Eastern theatre – a reminiscent of the cold war period balance of power phenomenon, which was lost in 1990s, and as a result the Muslim World suffered, from aggression, at the hands of the non-Muslim countries, causing death and destructions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Somalia, Lebanon, Palestine and Kashmir. The balance of power now emerging, would check aggression and help the cause of peace in the world.
Israel is very much apprehensive of Iran emerging as a regional power and would try its best to scuttle the deal so as “to keep Iran in a box, isolated, friendless and artificially weakened.” However, American policy in the Middle Eastern region is undergoing change for the better for Iran, as well as the Palestinians cause. US-Saudi relations also would undergo change, impacting the developments in Middle East and Egypt in particular at this period of meltdown in the region. It could also help quell the existing Shia-Sunni conflict, which has caused division, instability and blood letting in the Muslim World. America has released seven billion dollars, out of the frozen assets of Iran, which is a healthy sign. Hopefully sanctions would be gradually eased-out, for better relations with Iran. A friendly Iran could help USA to find peace in Afghanistan, because it holds considerable influence over the Northern Alliance, and together with Pakistan, can help the Afghans to form a broad-based and stable government. The understanding with Iran, can open many doors. No settlement is possible in Afghanistan and Syria without Iranian support. It is essential that the mistakes of the past, of keeping Afghanistan destabilized, were not repeated.
Pakistan would stand to gain as Iran would be able to shake-off the quarter of a century of coercion through embargos, sanctions and the induced war with Iraq. In fact, Iranian gains would add to our strength and regional peace. The US-Iran deal also vindicates Iranian assertion that their quest for nuclear energy was only for peaceful purposes. Except for the assumptions and speculations of some, no evidence has been found to the contrary.
The opening of the route through Iran would set a healthy and competitive economic activity, for the region. In fact the parallel trade routes through Iran and Pakistan would accelerate the process of opening up the land logged region. India would prefer the Iranian route. Thus Pakistan need not grant the MFN status to India and transit trade facilities to Afghanistan. There is no denying the fact, that our trade routes to Afghanistan are the shortest and with the opening of the trade corridor to China, the connectivity with China and Central Asia would be a blessing. Pakistan has to liberalize its trade with Afghanistan and Central Asia, supported by trade and tariff rules to properly manage the expanding trade.
There is a remarkable turn of events, which opens-up new vistas of opportunity. If carefully handled, it will provide economic gains and could help establish the much needed balance of power, to deter aggression. In fact, a multi polar world order is emerging, with new centers of geo-economic powers determining their role as partners in various coalitions. The notion of super-powers, maintaining the world order is dying its natural death.
General Aslam Beg is one of the most authoritative analysts in Pakistan. He can be reached at email@example.com