China-Iran strategic nexus: Implications for Pakistan

The dropout of India, by China, from key projects ensures reduction of its influence in Iran and Afghanistan.

China Iran

China and Iran are reportedly mulling over striking a strategic-cum-economic deal worth $400 billion. The yet-to-conclude deal is reportedly dropping India out of the key rail and energy projects signed four years ago.

Earlier, India signed a deal with Iran in the presence of the Afghan president four years ago in 2016, “according to which India was expected of investing $1.6 billion in a railroad project from Chabahar to Zahedan for linking to Afghanistan and Turkmenistan and then to Europe”.

Indian influence in Iran waning

India, moreover, was expected to invest approximately $6 billion in various energy projects. Answering the question about the reported ousting of India from these key projects, an Iranian official came up with the words that Iran did not like a partner, which looked for third party permissions before taking any step.

Another factor adding to this delay in payment for the proposed projects was dragging India out of these projects.

Read more: Iranian-Indian-Russian Push: Alternative to Suez & BRI?

The Indian presence in Iran was a key challenge for Pakistan vis-a-vis its relations with Iran, its security, economic and regional interests. In light of these issues, among others, reported China- Iran’s strategic deal prove a blessing in disguise for Pakistan.

Pakistan shares its southwestern border with Iran. Both countries are key members of ECO, OIC. Despite all these factors, both countries observed tense relations.

The main lacuna in their relations is the “trust deficit”. Pakistan has been trying to strike a balanced posture between the two primary Muslim countries: Iran and KSA.

However, it is a naked fact that it falls somewhere in devising such a balanced approach to dint of its domestic compulsions.

Pakistan inherited two problems from partition: security and paralyzed economy. Unfortunately, the latter was not the top-most priority, which is why it is still portraying the same pathetic picture.

To keep its dysfunctional economy alive, Pakistan has been approaching the foreign countries and international monetary regulating bodies for the last few decades. The lenders, via their bailouts, enjoy an undeniable say in the domestic and foreign policy formulation of this borrowed country.

It was this reason that Pakistan sided with KSA-led bloc while denying to attend the KL Summit held in last December. It is one of the key factors behind the trust deficit in the relationship between Iran and Pakistan.

Read more: “25 million Iranians” infected by COVID: Rouhani

Another reason for catering to the trust deficit is the vague approach of Pakistan towards Iran-US wrestling. This trust deficit may be overfilled by the reported China-Iran strategic deal via exploiting the Chinese partnership with Pakistan and now with Iran.

Pakistan is facing a plethora of security challenges, among which the Baluch factor remains dominant. This very phenomenon has been operating for decades garnered by multiple reasons: political and economic deprivation, etc.

Many of the terrorist activities in this part of the country are time and again linked with the cross border operators entering from Iran. The same concern is being tabled by Iran, in the wake of the terrorist activities investigated on its soil.

Chinese ties with Iran, are seen as a means to improve the security situation as Baluchistan is in the best favor of CPEC. Moreover, a peaceful region is vital for BRI and Chinese soft power expansion. Therefore, a normalization in this disturbing part of the country may take place with the influential role of China.

Overcoming posed challenges by India 

The reported dropout of India from key projects ensures the reduction of Indian influence in Iran and Afghanistan, where it has been a primary challenge for Pakistan since it has been affecting the security and strategic interests for far too long. The Baluch insurgency is seen as a provision mainly by external factors in India.

The Chabahar port is perceived to be an alternative to Gwadar by India to link with CARs, among others. The presence of Indian influence in Iran and Afghanistan is seen as a part of their ambition to encircle Pakistan.

Read more: Iran kicks India out from $5.5b “Farzad-B” gas project

Henceforth, the reported deal may dilute the Indian_ posed risks for Pakistan in terms of its interest in the western border by aligning the countries to a means of convergence.

With means of both Iran and Pakistan converging strategic and economic interests, it would be beneficial in regards to securing a massive percentage of the projects in CPEC, being able to overcome the power shortage in Pakistan, for one.

China is also ambitious in ensuring a haven to CPEC in Pakistan and BRI in the region. This tripartite convergence of interests will open a new chapter of regional cooperation. Apart from all these, the three countries have their stakes in the Heart of Asia Afghanistan.

Declaration of peace 

The primary key role is to ensure an enduring peace in Afghanistan that would cater to their best interests. In terms of security-cum-economic challenges, Pakistan and China share views on wanting a partnership with a peaceful Afghanistan; Iran adds to its appeal, the care for the Shia population in Afghanistan, and its anti-US posture.

The convergence of interests may shape a peaceful Afghanistan that will be addressed, through means of cooperation, which would likely be encouraged as a part of the strategic contract.

Read more: Iran overturns execution verdict for convicts linked to November protests

However, Pakistan may face one of the toughest challenges to its foreign policy in the form of standing neutral in the US-Iran and US-China tensions.

The economy of Pakistan, Kashmir, and FATF factors are looking for United States Support, which might halt in case of any shift in the stance towards either of the United States arch-rivals.

Who wins, who loses?

In a nutshell, the reported China-Iran strategic deal will bring Pakistan, even though it is not the signatory of the agreement, some advantages. Pakistan may take advantage of this deal while playing the Chinese card.

Read more: The China-Iran deal: Not about business but strategic communication

Thus, helping both Pakistan and Iran in filling the trust deficit, improving their ties, and launching joint efforts in addition to their joint Rapid Reaction Force initiative to deal with their combined security issues.

It will relieve Pakistan of Indian suspected presence in Iran. The multi-billion CPEC project would find a safe environment in Baluchistan to a considerable extent.

The author holds an MA in English literature and Linguistics from NUML Islamabad who regularly contributes to online platforms. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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