Adam Garrie |
India-Pakistan relations have become notably unhealthy in the age of Premier Narendra Modi, however, both countries continue to share something which separates both from the United States: a burgeoning relationship with Iran.
As two enthusiastic participants in China’s One Belt—One Road trading and infrastructure project, Iran and Pakistan have begun taking the necessary steps to intensify bilateral relations. As Iran and Pakistan share a border, particularly as concerns the region where the Indian Ocean meets the Gulf of Oman, it has become imperative for cooperation to increase.
During a recent meeting between the Iranian Minister of Defence, Brigadier General Amir Hatami, and Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Hatami stated that Pakistan and Iran share the same intrinsic security issues. This is becoming increasingly true in respect of fighting terrorism in Pakistan’s Balochistan province as well as in respect of seeking a pragmatic solution to bringing stability to neighboring Afghanistan.
In doing so, India could actually leverage regional powers against the United States whose relationship with India is becoming embarrassingly one-sided.
While Iran has moved further from the Indian position on Afghanistan since the 1990s, India and Iran continue to pursue bilateral relations with one another.
India’s investment in Iran’s Chabahar Port as well as a new agreement with Russia to build a gas pipeline from Iran to India, are further examples of Indo-Iranian cooperation. Because the new pipeline requires cooperation from Russia, India, Iran and crucially, also Pakistan, this could be a way of drawing India away from its sponsorship of terrorists in Balochistan. The unwritten logic to such a phenomenon is clear for all to see, apart from ideologues.
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While many see India’s investment in Chabahar Port as an attempt by Modi to yet again try and erode the potential of Pakistan’s Gwadar Port, the reality is actually far less cut and dry. Objectively, Gwadar is a better port because of it easier access to the ocean and more importantly because it is among the best deep water Panamax ports in the region. Chabahar which is not a deepwater port, cannot compete in this sense.
Chabahar can, however, serve as a crucial supplement to Gwadar as an effective terminal in the Gwadar network which itself will form an important causeway along the maritime belts of One Belt—One Road. Iran and Pakistan’s good relations further dictate that it is in neither country’s interest to complete in a would be ‘port wars’, but instead to function in a cooperative manner which makes the most of the assets unique to both Chabahar and the much deeper Gwadar.
Washington cannot play one side against the other on this issue, as both India and Pakistan have developed good relations with Iran on their own terms and in their own way.
India, of course, does not view things in the “win-win” fashion which the leadership in Tehran and Islamabad increasingly do. India, especially under Modi seems increasingly hell-bent on trying to rival rather than compliment China’s One Belt—One Road, while relations with Islamabad have not improved, in spite of joint membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
But then there is another factor whose geo-political effects constitute a kind of elephant in the room. The US has worked hard to intensify relations with India in recent years. This trend has only become more pronounced under US President Trump. The US seeks to use India as a means of challenging the supremacy of China as the foremost power of Asia. Likewise, the US seeks to use its relationship with India as a means of extracting concessions from its traditional regional “ally” Pakistan. The US also seeks to incur the additional benefit of attempting to induce friction between Moscow and New Delhi.
In reality, the US plans are not working as well as they might have hoped. China sees India’s obstructionist tendencies in respect of One Belt—One Road as more of an annoyance than a game changer. This in turn has served only to strengthen China’s relations with Pakistan. Likewise, Pakistan’s alliance with China has made both the United States and US ally Saudi Arabia less critical to Pakistan’s economy than in previous decades.
The US mentality of “us versus them” is incompatible with the emerging Asian and Eurasian style of international relations whereby the ‘friend of my opponent can still be my friend’.
This has allowed Pakistan to refuse Saudi invitations to bring a major non-Arab power into the Qatar diplomatic crisis as a potential way to off-set non-Arab Iran’s sympathies with Doha. It has also allowed Pakistan to develop a no-nonsense approach to dealing with increasingly absurd US rebukes of Pakistan when it comes to finding a sensible and pragmatic solution for peace in Afghanistan.
And then there is a geopolitical ‘X-factor’. Iran is now a de-facto economic partner of both India and Pakistan and increasingly, this will mean Iran and Pakistan cooperating more closely on security matters as well.
The US mentality of “us versus them” is incompatible with the emerging Asian and Eurasian style of international relations whereby the ‘friend of my opponent can still be my friend’. This is the case when it comes to not only Iran but also to Russia which is developing intensified relations with Pakistan while still maintaining its relationship with India, albeit in spite of notable but not insurmountable strains.
If the US thought it could force India or Pakistan to choose between Iran and others, this false dichotomy has proved not only foolish but unworkable. Nothing short of a regional war that would be in no one’s immediate interests is going to realistically change India nor Pakistan’s relations with Iran.
It has also allowed Pakistan to develop a no-nonsense approach to dealing with increasingly absurd US rebukes of Pakistan when it comes to finding a sensible and pragmatic solution for peace in Afghanistan.
On the other side of Eurasia, Turkey’s position as an uncomfortable member of NATO and bourgeoning security and trading partner with Iran is much the same.
The US is growing uncomfortable with Iran’s partnerships in South Asia, but increasingly there is little the US can do about this. Washington cannot play one side against the other on this issue, as both India and Pakistan have developed good relations with Iran on their own terms and in their own way. Furthermore, the US cannot exploit would-be ideological tensions as Sunni Pakistan like Modi’s increasingly Hindutva India neither have a problem working with Shi’a Iran.
Ultimately, this could place both Iran and Russia as possible brokers in a future peace agreement in respect of the Jammu and Kashmir conflict. Russia with currently good ties to both Pakistan and India and its old Soviet friendship with India would be comfortably balanced (under the right circumstances) with Iran’s good relations with both sides, plus its increasing signs of sympathy to pan-Islamic human rights issues, even in regions that are predominantly Sunni Muslim.
As with its relations with China, India is now faced with an opportunity to turn potential conflicts into a “win-win” situation. In doing so, India could actually leverage regional powers against the United States whose relationship with India is becoming embarrassingly one-sided.
As it is with so many other multi-lateral issues concerning the wider region, the choice is India’s and the only party which stands to be disappointed by such a ploy’s success is the United States, a country which has never looked after the best interest of any South Asian or Eurasian “ally”.
Adam Garrie is the managing editor at The Duran and is a frequent guest on RT, Press TV, and Digital Divides. He is an expert on Asia/Eurasian, Middle Eastern, Russian and US history and politics. He tweets:@adamgarriereal. The views expressed are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.