What does showdown over Iran mean for Pakistan?

June 27, 2008
  1. File photo of Iranian President Mahmoud AhmedinejadIt’s early days yet, but people are already trying to work out what any Israeli attack on Iran would mean for Pakistan. (The idea that Israel might attack Iran to damage or destroy its nuclear programme gained currency this week when former U.S. ambassador John Bolton predicted in an interview with the Daily Telegraph that it would do so after the November U.S. presidential election but before the next president is sworn in.)

Pakistan defence analyst Ikram Sehgal paints an alarming, and perhaps deliberately alarmist, picture in The News of what this could mean for Pakistan: ”Could Israeli or (US) planners afford the risk of leaving a Muslim nuclear state with the means of missile delivery intact if there is war with Iran? Can they take this calculated risk in the face of a possible Pakistani nuclear reaction because of military action on a fellow Muslim nation and neighbour…?” he writes. ”Should one not be apprehensive that India as the ‘newly U.S. appointed policeman of the region’ takes the opportunity … for launching all-out Indian military offensive….?”

Sounds like a prescription for the Apocalypse? Maybe, but perhaps worth taking apart to see whether this is a serious risk for Pakistan.

The nightmare scenario would require that Israel really was capable of taking out Iran’s nuclear installations and it is by no means clear that its air force has the size and reach to deal with Iran’s dispersed and well-hidden defences and targets.  The Americans, with their huge air strike capacity and firepower could have a go, but even then this would just give an excuse to Iran to leave the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and embark on a crash course to develop the bomb. (Both India and Pakistan developed their nuclear weapons while refusing to sign the NPT.)

File photo of Pakistan testing a nuclear-capable missileYou would also have to build in the fact that India has a ‘no first strike’ policy and that Pakistan has made clear it will use its nuclear weapons only if it feels its very existence is threatened. Pakistan also has a history of difficult relations with Iran, driven in part by rivalry over Afghanistan, by Sunni dominance over Pakistan, and by the sheer competitiveness of two countries which see themselves as the standard-bearers of Muslim glory in an earlier era. So it is not obvious that Pakistan would come to the rescue of Iran even if it were to be attacked by Israel.

Perhaps the fall-out of the sabre-rattling over Iran will be more mundane.

Pakistan is heavily touting a gas pipeline from Iran to India as a “pipleline of peace” that might bring Islamabad and Delhi together.  Yet at the same time the United States is leaning heavily on India not to agree to the pipeline project in order to put pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme, as this article in The Telegraph from Calcutta the makes clear.

It is not at all clear how all this will fit together in what appears to be a very unpredictable world. Views please?


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