The historic Iran deal


Diplomacy at its best



The world, with the exception of Israel and America’s Arab allies, is hailing the historic deal to curb Iran’s nuclear programme brokered in Vienna, the Austrian capital, after 19 days of hectic negotiations and brinkmanship. It is a spectacular achievement of modern day diplomacy. Predictably, Islamabad has welcomed the deal inked by five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany (5+1) and Tehran.

There are lessons to be learnt from the manner in which Tehran rose above mere rhetoric and sabre rattling for its ultimate national interest. Economic and political sanctions not only crippled Iran’s economy but also, over the years, it had become a pariah state.

Conversely, it took a courageous and dynamic leader like President Barack Obama to initiate negotiations with a nation that that had termed the US as an ‘evil empire’ ever since days of the Iranian Revolution. Admittedly, the popular perception held in the Islamic world, that Israel is the tail that wags the dog, is not entirely without foundation.

But the US president changed all that. He has never hid his disdain bordering on visceral hatred for the hawkish Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

So much so that earlier when Netanyahu visited Washington to lobby with Congress to scuttle a possible deal with Iran, Obama chose to ignore him. He has made it amply clear that if US lawmakers try to sabotage the deal reached at Vienna in Congress he will have no hesitation in exercising his veto powers.

Pakistan, sensing the historic accord as a window of opportunity, has called for expeditious implementation of the pact. History is being created in our immediate neighbourhood and if we choose to ignore it, like in the past, it will be entirely at our own peril.

Pakistan, sensing the historic accord as a window of opportunity, has called for expeditious implementation of the pact

I visited Iran to cover the arrival in the holy city of Qum of the father of Iranian revolution Ayatollah Khomeini in February 1979. After a lot of effort I was successful in interviewing him along with a few senior Pakistani journalists.

The meeting was more of an audience that the Iranian leader used to convey a message to the Pakistani dictator general Zia-ul-Haq. Khomeini very plainly said the Zia — who was persecuting the Shi’a at that time and had made up his mind to send Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to the gallows — should serve his people rather than “the istaimar” (US imperialism). Otherwise, he prophetically added, Zia would meet the same fate as Raza Shah Pahlavi.

Before arriving in Tehran from his long exile, it was reported that the Iranian leader had sought Pakistan’s logistic assistance to reach his homeland. Zia-ul-Haq, being very close to Saudi Arabia and its brand of Islam, refused to lend Khomeini a Pakistani plane. Ironically the Iranian leader landed in Tehran on an Air France plane.

Since then there has been no turning back for Islamabad that has consistently perused a policy of kowtowing to the Saudis and their patron the US. The Zardari regime tried to change this short-sighted policy, albeit with mixed results.

The US ingress in AfPak was so strong and Islamabad entirely dependent on Washington for its economic survival that it had little room to manoeuvre. Despite this, Zardari had the vision to inaugurate Pakistani section of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline along with Iranian president Ahmadinejad in February 2013.

I was present on the momentous occasion. In their speeches both the Pakistani and the Iranian presidents expressed their firm resolve to complete the project on time.

However, in May the same year the PPP lost to the PML-N in the general elections. The successor Sharif government failed to fulfil Pakistan’s commitment to build the pipeline lest it ruffled feathers in Washington and Riyadh. To add insult to injury the PML-N leadership complained that signing the deal with Tehran was another Zardari ploy to embarrass the PML-N government.

Obviously the flawed logic presupposes that Zardari knew that he will lose the elections and that PML-N would be the sure shot winner. I am yet to meet a Pakistani politician (Zardari inclusive) so prophetic about his political fate.

In this context advisor to the prime minister on foreign affairs and national security Sartaj Aziz’s statement vowing to vigorously pursue economic cooperation with Tehran, although smacking of opportunism, is certainly welcome. But Islamabad will have to move fast to foster good relations with Tehran. Otherwise it will miss the bus once again.

Pakistan could have been the closest ally of its Islamic neighbour while it was being politically and economically castigated by the west. Even when times were changing and the whole world including India was preparing to do business with Iran, our leadership refused to smell the coffee beans.

The Iranian consul general in Lahore Muhammad Hussain Bani Asadi recently revealed that Tehran was willing to export up to 3000 megawatts of electricity to Pakistan. It has already signed MOUs for supply of 100 megawatts to Gwadar and 1000 megawatts for Quetta respectively.

The recent Nawaz-Modi meeting on the sidelines of the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting in Russia was an apt lesson of how not to conduct diplomacy

According to the Iranian diplomat with the completion of the pipeline Pakistan could generate at least 5000 megawatts of electricity from natural gas.

On the question of sending troops to Yemen Islamabad took a courageous stand by refusing to play ball. The same kind of resolute courage will be required to break from the shackles of Saudi apron strings in order to foster a mutually beneficial relationship with Tehran.

The Indians already have very close economic and trade ties with Iran. It is high time that Pakistani businessmen and traders should make concerted efforts to avail this new window of opportunity.

In the context of long and checkered history of fruitless talks between historical adversaries like India and Pakistan there are lessons to be learnt. Somehow our foreign office has lost its mojo in recent years.

The recent Nawaz-Modi meeting on the sidelines of the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting in Russia was an apt lesson of how not to conduct diplomacy. Sharif is being unfairly castigated that he capitulated to the Indians.

The fact, however, remains that there is no alternative to diplomacy in resolving disputes between the two nuclear powered adversaries. Despite this obvious home truth both sides play to the tunes of their domestic audiences. The actual message gets lost in the process.

Post Nawaz-Modi summit the Indians have been successful in giving the spin that it was a diplomatic coup for them. The Pakistani diplomats however failed to get their message across in the joint statement issued after the meeting.

Even the optics of the meeting was poorly managed by our foreign office. In order to walk the talk that we want good relations with all our neighbours we need able diplomats and also the political will to do so.

Of course it takes two to tango. The Indians are no better when it comes to dealing with Pakistan. Nonetheless Narendra Modi is a natural diplomat who manages to package his message better than we do.