Pakistan Aligns With the Four Horns (Daniel 8:8)

Pakistan rebuilds global ties after Trump kiss off

By Jonathan Manthorpe. Published on Feb 21, 2018 5:36pm

The message bouncing back from Trump’s New Year’s tweet is that no one can afford to wait for the U.S. to get its house in order, if it ever does.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shakes hands with Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa, with Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khan Abbas, center right, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017, in Islamabad, Pakistan. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
As the internal frictions and fissures in the United States drive Washington towards inconsequence, countries around the world are scrambling to find new secure footings.

Pakistan is a bad district in a rotten neighbourhood at the best of times. But Washington’s decision last month to slash military and other support payments to Islamabad in the belief Pakistan harbours the terrorists the U.S. is fighting in Afghanistan, has jettisoned a 40-year partnership.

In his first tweet of the New Year, U.S. President Donald Trump railed against Pakistan, which he said was providing safe havens for terrorists the U.S. was fighting in neighbouring Afghanistan. He accused Islamabad of “lies and deceit.”

Pakistan has been the route through which Washington projected its policies in Afghanistan for close to 40 years. First Washington used Pakistan as the base for supporting Afghan mujahideen fighters against the Soviet invasion. Then, after 2001, it was fighting the Taliban and al-Qaida.

Although the alliance between Washington and Islamabad was never close, the practical partnership gave Pakistan reimbursed expenses and some security against regional rival India, with which it has fought four wars since 1949.

With the prospect of links with Washington ending, Islamabad, and more particularly Pakistan’s military – the country’s only fully functioning institution – finds itself forced to rebalance its key relationships with China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The big trick for Islamabad is finding the right balance in its relationships with the Middle East’s increasingly belligerent rivals, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

In the last weeks and months, the head of Pakistan’s army, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, has been shuttling between Iran and Saudi Arabia. He is trying to find a way of keeping happy both countries that are of great economic, diplomatic, and cultural importance to Pakistan.

Pakistan’s nearly 200 million people are almost all Muslims, and the vast majority follow the Sunni branch of Islam, which is led by Saudi Arabia. Around 10 per cent of Pakistani Muslims follow the Shia tradition, which is championed by Iran.

Gen. Bajwa is the right man for the job because the civilian administration is in some disarray as former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif awaits trial on corruption charges. Even on those rare occasions when there has been a stable civilian government in Pakistan, the military’s view of the country’s security is the determinant influence on regional foreign policy.

Islamabad cannot afford to seriously damage relations with either Tehran or Riyadh. But Islamabad’s relations with Saudi Arabia have been at rock bottom since 2015 when Pakistan’s parliament voted to stay neutral in Saudi Arabia’s war against Iran-backed Huthi rebels in Yemen. Islamabad also refused to get involved in Riyadh’s sanctions war against the Gulf State of Qatar, which the Saudi’s accused of funding terrorism and being far too cosy with Tehran.

Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, took Islamabad’s insistance on neutrality as a gross act of betrayal from a country that for decades had benefited from Riyadh’s largesse, including funding for its nuclear weapons program.

Indeed, there are persistent reports that a condition of Riyadh’s funding was that Pakistan would deliver nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia if the kingdom ever felt the need. Thus to Riyadh, Pakistan’s refusal to get involved in the war in Yemen put Islamabad’s trustworthiness at question, and therefore the ultimate security of Saudi Arabia.

Close to one million Pakistanis work in Saudi Arabia, remitting money to their families at home. Riyadh showed its displeasure at Islamabad’s refusal to join the coalition in Yemen by evicting 40,000 Pakistani workers last year on various pretexts.

Gen. Bajwa went to Riyadh earlier this month to try to patch up relations with the Crown Prince. As a result, on February 15 the Pakistan army announced that it will deploy troops to Saudi Arabia, though Gen. Bajwa still intends to keep out of the war in Yemen.

The Pakistani announcement emphasized its troops are part of an existing bi-lateral security arrangement with Saudi Arabia and will be used only for training and advice. They will not be used outside the kingdom.

Gen. Bajwa appears to have tried to ensure Iran would not be ticked off by this limited military support for Saudi Arabia. He went to Tehran in November, when as well as forewarning Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani about the coming deal with Prince Mohammed, he tried to erase irritants in the Iran-Pakistan relationship.

The Iran-Pakistan border has major security problems, with terrorists and tribal fighters on both sides lashing out at enemies on the other side of the line. Both Islamabad and Tehran have accused each other of supporting or failing to corral these groups.

But the looming economic opportunities of their relationship far outweigh these irritants.

>Pakistan has thrown in its lot with Beijing and President Xi Jinping’s dream of a New Silk Road transportation network linking China to the rest of Asia and Europe. China is managing and financing the development of Pakistan’s Gwadar port on the Indian Ocean and a transportation corridor the length of the country from the port to China’s Xinjiang province.

Iran is building a natural gas pipeline from its South Pars field, the world’s largest, into Pakistan. At one point there were plans for the pipeline to cross Pakistan into India, but it may now travel up the Gwadar corridor to China.

China has become Iran’s largest economic partner since sanctions against Tehran were lifted in 2015. To enhance those ties, China has put up $1.5 billion U.S. to finance the electrification of the Tehran-Mashhad railway, which will eventually form part of a 3,200-kilometre New Silk Road link between Urumqi in China’s Xinjiang and Iran.

The message bouncing back from Trump’s New Year’s tweet is that no one can afford to wait for the U.S. to get its house in order, if it ever does.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of iPolitics.

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