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Sometimes it is the small, unreported events that provide interesting signs of a larger agenda in play.
In recent days, on-the-ground sources claim that an Iranian of the Baloch ethnic group, who had been previously arrested by Iranian authorities, was abducted in the Jiwani area of Pakistan and presumably returned to Iran.
On January 12, Iran lauded the seizure of explosives and communications equipment allegedly belonging to a splinter group of the virulently anti-Shia Jundallah for whom Pakistan has allegedly been a safe haven.
The public affairs department of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Ground Force’s Quds Base claimed: “The brave combatants of IRGC Ground Forces and other security and law enforcement personnel, with intelligence superiority and all-encompassing preparation in border regions, will monitor and foil all plots by terrorist groups and the mercenaries of the Iranian nation’s enemies.”
That operation, which took place in the Saravan region, a known cross-border transit point, may have been less brilliant than advertised, being a consequence of information supplied by Pakistan.
In December, an Iranian diplomat said, “that military and intelligence cooperation have deepened greatly in the past few months as officials from the security establishments on either side of the border speak to each other more often,” confirming secret security-related meetings between Iran and Pakistan, which occurred earlier in 2017 along their common border.
In recent weeks, there has been a flurry of official announcements regarding Iran-Pakistan rapprochement in trade, defense, weapons development, counterterrorism, banking, train service and parliamentary cooperation.
The larger agenda was described this week by Pakistan’s Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani while addressing 13th session of the Parliamentary Union of Islamic Countries in Tehran:
“There is a changing world scenario in which a nexus among the US, Israeli and India is emerging and the Ummah (Muslim world) needs unity to deal with this because today it is Pakistan and Iran tomorrow it can be any other country.”
Pakistan sees China as the rising global superpower and now feels comfortable discarding any pretense regarding its faux cooperation with the United States.
“We do not have any alliance,” said Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif, according to a January 5 Wall Street Journal article.
In Afghanistan, American and Pakistani interests have always collided. Pakistan doesn’t want the U.S. to win in Afghanistan; instead, it wants a client state as strategic depth against its archrival, India. The U.S., on the other hand, wants a stable, independent, democratic and terrorist-free Afghanistan.
The Iranian regime, under pressure both internally and externally and desperately seeking friends, has decided to play the “Islam card,” with Pakistan. Iran seeks means of opposing U.S. and Saudi moves in the Middle East, to eliminate any Saudi-funded anti-Shia insurgents on its eastern border and work with Pakistan to suppress Baloch ethnic separatism in its southeastern province.
Iran’s Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami recently said that by enhancing regional cooperation Pakistan and Iran could “counter interfering policies of certain trans-regional powers,” undoubtedly meaning the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Pakistan seeks Iranian assistance to help ease the U.S. out of Afghanistan and, thereby, permanently block any Indian influence in that country. The narrative buttressing that effort was just previewed by former Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbini Khar in a CNN interview:
“I am increasingly starting to believe that the presence of the USA in Afghanistan is not for peace and stability…but to create chaos in this region so that Russia and China and many other Central Asian republics, together with Iran perhaps, can be contained…the more I see how the Afghan war is being fought, the more I believe this is happening.”
Not surprisingly, China has offered to mediate peace in Afghanistan and invited the Afghans to join the $50 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, both of which would contribute to its aim of regional hegemony.
Iranian-Pakistani collaboration is not a new phenomenon. Pakistan transferred nuclear technology to Iran in the 1980s. Although we have been down this road before, the U.S. does not appear to have a strategy to address a major ongoing geopolitical shift.
Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired US Army Reserve colonel, an IT command and control subject matter expert, trained in Arabic and Kurdish, and a veteran of Afghanistan, northern Iraq and a humanitarian mission to West Africa. He receives email at firstname.lastname@example.org.