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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Israel will commit a huge mistake if it attacks Iran. Firstly, its airforce does not have the reach and capability. Secondly, if attacked, it will give Iran a very good reason to pull itself out of the NPT and make the bomb with a greater resolve. Besides, such an unprovoked attack will only make Israel a more hated state in the region and throughout in the Muslim world. I cannot think of US joining forces with Israel at this point when it is already caught in a quagmire of its own making in Afghanistan, Iraq and increasingly in the nuclear-armed Pakistan. With its economic troubles intensifying at home, another war would be suicidal.

Posted by Safdar Jafri | Report as abusive

While an Israeli strike on Iran’s nukes appears inevitable, I believe it will be a serious mistake by the Jewish state with dangerous ripple effects in the region. However, based on all of the known data and inside thinking in Pakistan’s defense circles, Pakistan’s nuclear strike capability has fundamentally been developed to deter possible Indian aggression. It is highly unlikely that Pakistan would get involved in any conflicts that do not directly threaten its security. Besides, the case of Iran is very complex, given Pakistan’s close relations with the Saudis and Persian Gulf states who are very suspicious of Iran’s growing influence i he region. It is also a mistake to underestimate the Sunni-Shia rivalry. It was Iran’s Safavids (Shah Ismail) who are believed to be the reason why the Ottomans never succeeded in their ambitions for broader European conquest. The great Shia-Sunni schism within Islam has played a crucial role in its entire history and continues to this day, in spite of the Muslims’ underdog status today.

Posted by Riaz Haq | Report as abusive

I was actually just thinking about this the other day… My close family was divided some of which lives in Pakistan. After I heard about the Iranian drama I started thinking that the way George Bush had fooled the world into supporting its attack on Iraq that it may be possible that the US could also attack Pakistan if they wanted. Now I’m a die-hard American…nothing and nothing can or will ever separate me from my intense pro-american sentiments… But the notion of harm to my parents who are all I have had me deeply disturbed for a second.
…until the other day, when I realized thankfully that Pakistan had nuclear capabilities. Now I’m at peace… God forbid another stupid president decides to mess with Pakistan, I’m glad Pakistan has enough nuclear arsenal to at least threaten back properly. I’m sorry but without any nuclear prowess, Pakistan may not have been able to survive outside pressures since it faces enough problems internally. I’m not a big fan of the governments that come and go, and I wish there was speedier progress with relations with India (something our forefathers left us children to needlessly bicker about); but there are a lot of good and educated people there. Something you don’t see on international television.

Posted by American First Pakistani Second | Report as abusive

Look at a map of the Middle East. The only way Israeli aircraft can attack Iran is to overfly Turkey; or Syria and Iraq; or Jordan and Iraq; or Egypt/Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia have good interceptor aircraft and would not permit overflight without taking some action.

Syria would be unable to do anything about illegal penetration of its airspace, but Jordan has F-16s and might be able to down a few Israeli aircraft, although it could be expected that the IAF would saturate its air defences.

So the flight route probably comes down to Syria-Iraq-Iran. But Iraq’s air space is controlled entirely by the US. If overflight were to take place, it would have to be with the agreement of Washington. The Arab world would go ballistic (perhaps literally) and the world would become an even more dangerous place.

The US administration appears to be backing this insane operation which, if carried out, will have appalling consequences. Iran would use every means at its disposal to hit back, on the basis that a surprise attack on its territory, contrary to the UN Charter and without any legal justification, merits use of every weapon in its arsenal. There would be a major effort to block the Gulf, and its Shahab and other missiles would be fired at Israel. The Iranians would rationalise their stance by saying they have nothing to lose by taking whatever action they consider appropriate.

The efforts of extremists to attack America and the West in general would receive enormous impetus.

The price of oil would go through the roof. There would be world-wide chaos as food production and other costs increased by amounts we can only guess at.

Nobody in their right mind could agree that this attack is justifiable.

Posted by beecee | Report as abusive

Iran will not be disturbed before destruction of Pakistan and its Nuclear Program. Pakistan’s nuclear program is already under consideration by U.S Agencies. May Allah save Pakistan!

Posted by Phaaree | Report as abusive

FIVE REGIONAL CITIES OF PAKISTAN should be upgraded with in the provinces in the country. Regional cities of Dera Ismail Khan in NWFP, Gawadar/ Qalat in Balouchistan, Sukkar/ Larkana in Upper Sind, Jehlam/ Rawalpindi and Multan in Punjab province. These regional cities have been ignored by the federal and provincial governments although these cities have their own history, culture and languages.Dera Ismail Khan in south of Pakhtun khwa/MWFP is under seige, Multan/DG Khan in south of Punjab is next target of religious extremists,Sukkar/ Larkana is being rule by criminals, Gawadar/ Qalat is trouble some. The people of these regions have to travel to provincial capitals for every small issue and requirement of the daily life which should be provided in nearby cities. A good number of population travel to big cities for their survival to earn livelihood as the local feudal own majority land and keep the common man as their slaves. Creation of regional government and upgrading of the regional cities will save a lot of money and time of the poor people of these regions. Circuit benches of the High Courts are already working in these areas and only requirement is the additional staff of different departments involved in additional work at the provincial capitals. The concern authorities should immediately consider to upgrade the regional cities. And immediate attention should be given upgrade/build the airports,TV station, civic center, libraries,hospitals, educational institutes and investment opportunities for Pakistanis living abroad and foreign firms to create jobs in the area as majority population in rural Pakistan do not have enough resources to survive. It’s remind me the condition of pre Islamic revolution of Iran in Shah time when the rural Iran was ignored and the capital Tehran was developed in a way to call it Paris of Middle East with modern life style. Couple of other big cities like Isfahan and Caspian sea was taken care of because of foreign tourists but rural area was ruled by cruel police and intelligence. Then what happen rural population supported the Islamic revolution and moved to Tehran and other big cities later on. The new government after revolution developed, built and upgraded the rural areas of Iran accordingly. A fund to upgrade/build these regional cities in Pakistan should be intoduced by public and private sector and Pakistani government, our foreign friends and Pakistanis living abroad may be asked to participate in this development mission in the country..KHWAJA AFTAB ALI,( former secretary, Iranian embassy, Saudi Arabia,1979-88) Advocate High Court & I.P. Attorney-first & the only Pakistani lawyer who earned Intellectual Property laws scholarship in USA,presently residing in Florida, USA. all_languages@hotmail.com

Posted by Khwaja Aftab Ali, Florida, USA | Report as abusive