By Yasmeen Aftab Ali
Removal of Rex Tillerson had clearly suggested that there was a strong possibility of United States withdrawing from Iran Nuclear Deal, which utlimately happened not long after Tillerson’s exit. In January of 2018, Trump had issued an ultimatum, threatening to pull out if European allies or Congress failed to “fix the deal’s disastrous flaws.” However, the renewed agreement with the allies sought by Trump aimed to exclude Iran, something USA’s European allies and the UN were unwilling to accept.
Pentagon, however, had already started preparing itself for any negative cascading effects as an outcome of this decision. Roughly 5,000 US troops in Iraq and 2,000 US troops in Syria were beefed up by aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman in the Eastern Mediterranean. In March 2018, Pentagon’s top commander in the Middle East had told the Congress that Iran’s activities in terms of supporting proxies in the region had stepped up after the gains made in Syrian civil war by Bashar al-Assad.
The US military seems to have determined the future course of action. A three-front opposition is in order to stop Russia and China in the Middle East, Asia as well as in Europe. “Great power competition, not terrorism, has emerged as the central challenge to U.S. security and prosperity,” claimed Pentagon Comptroller David Norquist while releasing the Pentagon’s $686 billion budget request in January. Michael Klare also nots that “It is increasingly apparent that China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian values and, in the process, replace the free and open order that has enabled global security and prosperity since World War II.”
French President Emmanuel Macron had spoken about possibility of a war in case US decided to renege on the deal. It is pertinent to note that every 90 days, Trump Administration needed to certify to the Congress that Iran was complying with the nuclear deal provisions. With the US walking away, it needs a second 90 day time span to devise a new legislation, not only doing away with the deal but also state categorically what steps has Iran failed to undertake.
The step taken by Trump relies heavily on breaking Iran’s back by creating economic issues. However, getting out of the deal will lead to Iran producing nuclear energy sans checks. Saudi Arab and Israel have gleefully reacted to Trump’s decision which they thought legitimized Iran’s present clerical set-up. On the other hand, in his statement, Obama said: “Without the JCPOA, the United States could eventually be left with a losing choice between a nuclear-armed Iran or another war in the Middle East.”
The reneging of the deal by America can lead to a conflict involving Israel and Russia. If Iran goes ahead producing nuclear materials, Saudi Arab will not likely take it lying down.
Iran has smartly avoided a knee jerk reaction. A tweet by Javed Zariff states: “In response to US persistent violations & unlawful withdrawal from the nuclear deal, as instructed by President Rouhani, I’ll spearhead a diplomatic effort to examine whether remaining JCPOA participants can ensure its full benefits for Iran. Outcome will determine our response.”
Pakistan is understandably upset at the unilateral move by the US. The negative impact of scrapping the deal will have a spillover effect on bilateral engagements/agreements between Iran and Pakistan. This includes the gas pipeline project between the two which will head towards further delay.
Pakistan’s position is prickly to say the least. Islamabad is looking towards a bailout from China and Saudi Arab to cover the country’s external account deficit in 2018-9 budget instead of asking the IMF. These ‘friendly’ countries have been asked to supply with $6-$8 billion in form of cash grants. Saudi Arab can give either cash grants or oil at deferred payments.
Additionally, the US and Pakistan have also witnessed a downward trajectory in relations under Trump. The tensions between both the countries are based on differing approaches to regional issues. It is interesting that the response from Pakistan’s foreign office – in reaction to the US imposing restrictions on Pakistani diplomats – has come on back of the US decision to walk out of Iran Nuclear deal on May 11, 2018, “Foreign Office spokesperson Dr Mohammed Faisal said that the restrictions will be implemented on May 11 and these will be on a reciprocal basis.” (Local newspaper May 11, 2018)
Pakistan has to make a decision which may well be unavoidable this once. Whether to go ahead with Saudi Arab’s diktat and by doing so, going ahead with the sticky, uncomfortable ‘alliance’ with U.S; or stand with the European allies and Iran. Pakistan will surely have to weigh her options. The US will continue creating issues to try stop China’s advancement in the region; including successful completion of CPEC projects to which Pakistan’s political and military leaderships are totally committed.
If Pakistan takes a walk now, it will be a push towards Beijing. Pakistan understands that Trump does not understand the finer points of regional concerns Pakistan has; which implies Washington supporting and strongly encouraging India to increase presence in Afghanistan.
There is also confusion in Pakistan as to what exact line of action should be taken in light of the US leaving the Iran Nuclear Deal. The politicians are too much involved in the forthcoming elections, leaving the burden on bureaucracy and other players. The vibes one gets is a ‘wait and see policy’ with a hesitation to break the alliance cleanly. This has a lot to do with putting all eggs in one basket and the fear of not just eventually stepping away but also annoying Saudi Arab. This may well lead to a continuation of an increasingly poisonous relationship to the detriment of Pakistan’s national interests.
Not just Pakistan, India will also face a huge setback as she has sunk in over $500 million in developing the Chabahar Port and may well turn into a point of friction for the new allies. Besides, being the third-largest oil exporter of the world, fresh sanctions on Iran can send the prices sky high.
For once, both Pakistan and India may be on same side of the divide owing to their own respective national interests. For Pakistan it is crucially important to review the situation in the long run to safeguard her national interests where tethering on the brink or sitting it out is like a tooth-ache going worse.