If Foreign Minister Abdollahian can at least convince his hosts to seriously explore creating a joint security mechanism as the first step towards restoring mutual trust with a view towards eventually benefiting from the North-South Transport Corridor, then his trip could help alleviate the broader regional security dilemma.
Pakistan announced on Monday that Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian will visit Islamabad on 29 January at the invitation of his counterpart Jalil Abbas Jilani, which presents an opportunity to patch up their problems for good after last week’s unprecedented tit-for-tat strikes. Those two exchanged blows over one another’s hosting of groups in the shared Balochistan subregion that each designated as terrorists-separatists after Iran struck first and then Pakistan retaliated.
The long-running security dilemma between them over this sensitive issue inevitably climaxed, but the worst-case scenario was prevented by Iran’s practice of “reflexive control” over Pakistan, which greatly reduced the chances that everything would spiral into an all-out conventional war by miscalculation. Readers can learn about how Iran came out on top here, but the point of this piece isn’t to dwell on that observation, but to look to the future by proposing ways in which to sustainably stabilize their ties.
A joint security mechanism should be explored during Foreign Minister Abdollahian’s visit that would lead to each’s border forces remaining on call 24/7 for responding to actionable intelligence from their counterparts about imminent attacks orchestrated from their side against the other. If such a framework had already existed last week, then Iran wouldn’t have had to unilaterally strike Tehran-designated terrorists-separatists in Pakistan to thwart the attack that they were about to carry out.
This requires much better mutual trust than exists at present after each’s threat perceptions of the other worsened over the past two years as Iran grew much closer to Pakistan’s Indian rival while post–Imran Pakistan grew much closer to Iran’s American one. Accordingly, Pakistan suspects that India carries out proxy attacks against it from Iran, while Iran suspects that the US does the same against it from Pakistan. Objectively speaking, however, only Iran’s concerns are legitimate nowadays.
The arrest in March 2016 of former Indian naval officer Kulbhushan Jadhav, who Pakistan claimed was an active-duty officer tasked with waging Hybrid War against it from Iran (which Delhi consistently denied), would have dismantled whatever associated networks might have existed in this respect. Furthermore, the clinching of spring 2021’s reported $400 billion quarter-century Chinese-Iranian investment deal would have seen the Islamic Republic kick out any remnants might have still remained.
Whatever one may think about the aforesaid accusations, there’s no way that China would invest such an astronomical sum in Iran if its military and intelligence services sincerely thought that there was any credence to claims that India was waging Hybrid War against Pakistan from Iran. Pakistan hosts the Belt & Road Initiative’s (BRI) flagship China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, whose infrastructure and personnel (including Chinese nationals) have been targeted by these same Islamabad-designated terrorist groups.
Therefore, it’s illogical to imagine that China would promise to pump nearly half a trillion dollars into a country suspected of hosting its rival’s intelligence agents who are accused of waging a Hybrid War against BRI’s top project anywhere in the world, thus discrediting Pakistan’s claims from 2021-onward. By contrast, it’s much more logical that the US would leverage its reasserted hegemony over Pakistan from April 2022-onward to wage Hybrid War on Iran via Tehran-designated and Pakistani-based terrorists.
It was actually predicted here in a piece for an Iranian think tank in April 2022 that something of the sort could happen, which Pakistan’s de facto military-led authorities had a self-interested reason to facilitate for retaining legitimacy from the West and as a quid pro quo for IMF aid. The Intercept reported last September that one of the conditions for the latter was sending arms to Ukraine for use against Russia so it wouldn’t be far-fetched to speculate that there were Iranian-related strings attached too.
Neither the US nor Pakistan expected that Iran would ever unilaterally strike these groups, let alone while it’s embroiled in a regional proxy war with Israel all across West Asia, which is why Tehran’s attack last week took both of them completely by surprise. The Islamic Republic presciently calculated per the previously cited analysis about “reflexive control” that Islamabad couldn’t afford to escalate matters due to its cascading domestic crises and would only respond reciprocally (if at all) prior to de-escalating.
The Pakistani Foreign Minister’s invitation for his Iranian counterpart to visit Islamabad next week proves that this country has no appetite for a conventional conflict with its western neighbor and might even be reconsidering the wisdom of hosting Tehran-designated and US-backed terrorists-separatists on its soil. This sequence of events creates space for making progress on the joint security mechanism proposal if Pakistan sincerely has the political will to finally put this dimension its proxy war past behind it.
In that event, the groundwork could be established upon the restoration of mutual trust sometime in the future to then explore expanding Pakistan’s involvement in the North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC) that President Putin envisaged facilitating Russian-Pakistani trade in his federal address from February 2023. The obstacle is that India operates the port of Chabahar that serves as the terminal point of this megaproject, which is why Pakistan tried destabilizing Iran’s Sistan & Balochistan region in the first place.
Islamabad will therefore have to come to terms with its rival’s leading role in pioneering this Eurasian integration corridor in order to mutually benefit from it, but those two’s well-known security dilemma impedes any progress on that front, not to mention recently restored US influence over Pakistan. Newly troubled Indo-US ties incentivize Washington to once again exploit Pakistan as its proxy against India, but this plan is contingent on Islamabad going along with it, which can’t be taken for granted.
If Foreign Minister Abdollahian can at least convince his hosts to seriously explore the proposed joint security mechanism as the first step towards restoring mutual trust with a view towards eventually benefiting from the NSTC, then his trip could help alleviate the broader regional security dilemma. It’s too early to tell whether Pakistan has any such interests, but his trip next week will reveal that country’s intentions one way or another, which is why it should be closely followed all interested observers.