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US-Iran tension & threat to CPEC

Naveed Aman Khan

AT the successful completion of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) tension between US and Iran in the region is intensifying drastically. At this stage future of CPEC will be in danger if after Afghanistan, America starts another war in this region with Iran. Gulf and Oman waters are surrounded by American warships. Presence of American B-52 jets in the Middle East is horrifying the situation. America is waging yet another war along sensitive border of Pakistan. At the same time suicidal attack in Lahore and terrorist attack in a 5-Star hotel of Gwadar are part of current anti-Pakistan and anti-CPEC great game and design. Alarmingly recent Gwadar hotel attack is the sixth in a month in Balochistan. Balochistan Liberation Army and Taliban have claimed the responsibility of these terrorist incidents. After recent press conference of DG ISPR Major General Asif Ghafoor, Pashtoon Tahafaz Movement (PTM) will definitely add fuel to the fire at this stage.

Mounting new phase of terrorism in the country will worsen the situation in the region. Iranian economy-struggling government will no longer be in the position to counter American military might. Pakistan’s politically inexperienced present government will not be in a position to handle the situation and save the country from torrential impact of terrorism and US- Iran war. From Gwadar how Chinese cargo ships will easily and safely pass through this tumultuous water. The Iranian government marked the one-year anniversary of the US decision to withdraw from the multilateral agreement that capped its nuclear program by announcing that it would no longer comply with elements of the deal, a move that prompted US to impose new sanctions. This tit-for-tat exchange followed the dispatch of a US aircraft carrier strike group to the region following reports that Iran or its proxies were preparing to attack US interests in the area. Stakeholders must step up efforts to deescalate tension as the prospects for conflict rise.

Donald Trump has worked since taking office to kill the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the official name of the 2015 multinational agreement that constrained Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Trump withdrew the US from the agreement and then began to steadily turn the screws of Iran, putting sanctions on its economy to force comprehensive changes in virtually all aspects of Iranian foreign policy. The US seeks to push Iranian oil exports, the foundation of its economy, to zero thus far, they have fallen to 700,000 barrels a day, considerably less than the 1 million to 1.5 million barrels needed to sustain its economy. Iran has honoured its commitments under the deal despite the US withdrawal and the pressure campaign. Earlier this week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned that if his country did not get relief from sanctions within 60 days, Iran would resume enrichment of Uranium to a level higher than that allowed by the JCPOA.

The threat is directed not at the US. It targets primarily Europe and then Russia also, China and other countries that do not support US decision. It aims to get them to break with the US and support the original deal. Europe tried to develop a scheme that would allow companies that want to trade with Iran to avoid US sanctions. It has largely failed, with most businesses deciding that US anger outweighs potential profits in Iran. Now the hope is that Russia, China and India, each of which is a major consumer of Iranian oil and whose governments are inclined to resist US unilateral sanctions, will pick up the slack. European Union diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini and France, Germany and Britain, the three European nations in the deal, responded with a joint statement in which they strongly urge Iran to continue to implement its commitments under the JCPOA in full as it has done until now and to refrain from any escalatory steps. They added, “We reject any ultimatums and we will assess Iran’s compliance on the basis of Iran’s performance regarding its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA.”

President Hassan Rouhani said that his government remained committed to the nuclear deal. “We will not start breaching commitments and waging any war,” he declared. “But we will not give in to bullying either.” Most observers credit President Rouhani for seeking a middle ground that will spur negotiations, not kill the deal. The US is not so inclined. It replied to the move within hours, ordering still more sanctions on exports of Iranian iron, steel, aluminium and copper a sector that accounts for about 10 percent of the country’s export revenue. Trump then tweeted that he still looks forward to a meeting with Iranian leaders one day to work out an agreement, but “Iran can expect further actions unless it fundamentally alters its conduct.”

That two-month deadline may not be the most important factor. After receiving intelligence reports that allegedly warned of possible attacks by Iran or its proxies on US targets, America dispatched an aircraft carrier strike force, bombers and other assets to the region to deter any attempts. Previously, US had concluded that Iran was prepared to wait out America, avoiding provocations in the hope that Trump would lose the 2020 election and a new president would seek a better relationship. It is unclear what prompted the new US analysis, prompting fears that some in the US are spoiling for a fight and a chance to promote regime change in Iran. The immediate danger now is an accident or miscalculation with so many forces in the area.

Pakistan has limited room for manoeuvre in this situation. It has reduced its own imports of Iranian oil after obtaining a waiver when sanctions were first imposed and is now following the situation closely. We hope to use our traditionally friendly relations with Iran to solve problems through dialogue and achieve peace and stability in the region. Pakistan needs to monitor US-Iran situation very keenly to avoid damage to it and thus CPEC. China and Russia should play their pivotal role very timely before it is too late. Quitting from Afghanistan after eighteen years, killing hundreds of thousands of human beings and coming in gulf with new agenda will be very unwise US decision. For peaceful, safe and stable Pakistan by all means we need to pull up the socks now.