KARACHI: The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) held a session on Saturday evening on the current developments in West Asia participated by three prominent individuals.
Former foreign secretary of Pakistan Najmuddin Shaikh was the first speaker. He began his presentation by mentioning the Ukrainian passenger plane that was mistakenly shot down by an Iranian-launched missile. Iran has acknowledged that this happened because of a mistake on the part of those who are involved in safeguarding Iran, and those who have fired the missile will be held accountable. There will be a demand for compensation. Perhaps a precedent will be followed when in 1988 an Iranian passenger plane was shot down by the US. President [Ronald] Reagan had expressed his regret and eventually it was decided that compensation would be given.
Mr Shaikh said three countries are associated with the current developments: the US, Iran and Iraq. There is much confusion in the United States. There is polarisation in the country, and within its administration. The Congress says that the authority of waging war lies with it and Trump will ignore it. Trump is unpredictable but one thing is not: anything that Obama did is [deemed] bad and has to be reversed. However, there is a deeper concern. The American secret state is still traumatised by the hostage crisis. It is driving the attitude towards Iran. Many think-tanks have written about how counterproductive it is. This is not the prevailing sentiment, though. The prevailing sentiment is that what happened to Gen Qassem Soleimani is right but now we need to de-escalate.
With reference to Iran, he said it did a wise thing of announcing that we have carried out our attack and that’s all we’re going to do. But they sent a message to the US that it should examine the precision of their missiles. And Iraq has become the battleground. The ambassador also hinted at the Arab-Ajam divide in the region, saying the Arabness of Iraq wants to assert itself.
Crisis in West Asia discussed
Consul-General of Iran in Karachi Ahmad Mohammadi started his address by expressing his regret at the civilian aircraft mistakenly shot down. He said unfortunately on Jan 3 Commander Soleimani was assassinated by an American drone in Iraq. It is an act of terrorism because he was carrying a message to Iraqi officials; he was not in battle. The US started spreading false cause of his death, which was not accepted by the people of the region and even the US Congress wasn’t convinced about it.
Mr Mohammadi divided the consequences of the developments in three categories. The first was internal where millions of Iranian people took part in the late general’s funeral; it united the Iranian nation. The second was regional. It emphasised that America is not trustable. The US has to start to go out of the region. The action shows the US doesn’t have the legitimacy to maintain security in the region. The third consequence was to do with the international community [which needs to understand] that the US is unpredictable. It uses norms and [UN] principles as a tool.
The consul general then gave three what-to-do suggestions. The first was regional, where it’s necessary for the region to have unity and provide its own security. Secondly, the international community must challenge the US for using UN principles as tools. They should tell the US that it has a colonial spirit. Thirdly, the US must accept and respect other countries.
January in Iranian history
Scholar Raza Naeem was the last speaker of the programme. He said the month of January has a special place in Iranian history.
It was in January that the Shah of Iran fled the country. One year later in January the hostage crisis winded down, and now in January 2020 we are again in throes of a crisis. What we are seeing today is the unravelling of the Trump doctrine of maximum pressure on Iran, whereas Iran has been following the doctrine of strategic patience. What happened in the past two days was a calibrated response from Iran. Right now the US is the most isolated country in terms of the Middle East than it has ever been in 40 or 50 years of its diplomatic relations. Even weaker are their allies in Riyadh and Tel Aviv.
Mr Naeem said Gen Soleimani was carrying a diplomatic passport and was on a peace mission. This was not just an attack on Iran; it was an attack on Iraq. It was a declaration of war both against Iran and on all pro-Iranian movements throughout the Middle East. Even after killing Soleimani, US officials kept giving irresponsible statements, for example, Mike Pence falsely linked the late general to 9/11, and there’s no retraction of it.
Mr Naeem said the background to all this goes back to before 1979. Iran and Saudi Arabia were both monarchies at the time, loyal allies of the US, and there was no mention that one was Shia and the other was Wahhabi.
After 1979, Iran created its own democratic brand of Islam, and that caused a lot of consternation in Saudi Arabia because they thought you can’t mix Islam and democracy. That is the point when Jimmy Carter came up with this Carter Doctrine which is still in effect one way or another. The doctrine means you have to militarily defend the Saudi monarchy.
The young scholar added Iran was a rising economic and military power of the 21st century. The US is still the most powerful military machine, but what it can do with that power is unclear. He also differed with Mr Shaikh arguing that the Arab-Ajam talk is misleading. The major conflict is between Iran and Israel.
Earlier, Masuma Hasan welcomed the speakers.
Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2020