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An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri

Panun Kashmir

Milchar

Symbol of Unity

 
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Mending the Fence with Iran

In the wake of Taliban occupation of northern Afghan town of Mazar-e-Sharif in summer 1998, relations between Iran and Pakistan had further deteriorated.

In the course of their attack on and capture Mazar-e-Sharif, more than eight thousand Afghans of Uzbek ethnicity and Shia faith were put to sword by the Taliban. The treatment of the Shias of western Afghanistan during the capture of Herat, another important north - western town, by the Taliban evoked deep resentment of the Iranians. Iran - Taliban relations came under severe strain so much so that Iran had to mobilise its army along Iran-Afghan border. UN Secretary General appealed to both to maintain restraint.

Iran has more than once protested to Islamabad for meddling in Afghan affairs in a way that its implications affect the foreign policy of regional powers.

Pakistanís military ruler had many compulsions to visit Teheran on 8-9 December 1999 and assure Iranian authorities that his government would not like further deterioration in its relations with Teheran. He met with the President Mr. Khatami although the latter had cancelled all his appointments owing to his indisposition.

By and large, the visit of the Pakistani military ruler and his meeting with Khatami did not receive the coverage in Iranian press the way it should have. Its opinion at the best remained cautious and at worst anti-Pakistan.

Pakistani press quoted the Foreign Minister, Abdus Sattar saying that the two leaders agreed on the imperative of setting up a "broad-based, representative and multi-ethnic government" in Afghanistan. This indirectly meant accepting the Iranian viewpoint. But the crucial question is whether this type of arrangement for the governance in Kabul is acceptable to the Taliban? We know that the Taliban have already rejected any suggestion of sharing power with the Northern Alliance leadership. They have made it clear to the UN representative Lakhdar Brahimi. How does, then, General Musharrafís plan fit in the overall political chemistry of the region and of Afghanistan?

Obviously, Islamabad will pursue a policy in Afghanistan that suits its interests notwithstanding what would be the fallout on Pak-Iran relations. Iran-Pakistan rivalry in the region goes beyond Afghanistan. Its epicentre is actually Central Asia where Pakistan subtly confronts Iran in a number of areas, trade and commerce, strategic planning, regional diplomacy, socio-cultural thrust and military strategy.

Islamabad has a more pressing compulsion to seek the friendly hand of Iran. In the post Soviet political scenario in the region, India, Russia and Iran seem to be coming closer in framing response to strategic imperatives in the region. Each country has its interests and areas have been identified on which these interests could converge. Central Asian republics are fighting with their back to the wall to disallow the growth and spread of Islamic fundamentalism in its crudest form. This is also the perception of India and Russia. The rise of Taliban has compelled Teheran to dovetail its political posturing in a way that it neither becomes an outcast of sorts among the OIC members nor endorses Islamabadís overt and covert support to Taliban. All that General Musharraf tried to do in Teheran was to wean away Iran from this posturing.

One of the irritants that lately cropped up in Iranís otherwise cordial relations with Pakistan was the latter's denial of permitting Iran to lay the gas and oil pipeline to India via Pakistan. Saner elements in Pakistan have not approved General Musharrafís statement that he would not allow the Central Asian gas and pipeline to reach India via Pakistan and the he would see it is terminated in Pakistan only.

This runs counter to the plans of the Americans. The American giant Oil Company Unocal has already invested in Turkmen gas field of Daulatabad. Its assumption was that once entire Afghanistan including the Panjsheer valley of General Masud fell to the Taliban, it would pave the way for the oil cartel to bring the pipeline to India and perhaps further east.

Since Iranís relations with the US are not cordial for known historical reasons, Islamabad would like to forestall the Unocal plan by mending the fence with Iran and thwarting the American interests. Persuading Teheran to accept Islamabadís suggestion of terminating Iranian oil and gas pipeline in Pakistan and not further eastward could do this. At least this arrangement could be made till the Taliban overrun northern areas of Panjsheer valley.

It is also clear that Islamabad would move to ensure termination of Iranís aid to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. According to available reports, Russia, Iran and India are the three countries that provide assistance to the Northern Alliance regime. General Musharraf also tried to soften Iran in this particular matter.

With all said and done, the crucial question is whether authorities in Islamabad have begun to understand the impact of the backlash of their Afghan policy. Drug smuggling on a large scale, exacerbation of sectarian violence, mushroom growth of fundamentalist seminaries openly imparting training in arms and subversion in the name of jihad, disruption of law and order to the extent that Pakistan is called a state without a law, and the ouster of democratic dispensation by military rule, are to name only some of the stark realities looking into the eyes of Pakistani General. Never in the history of nations has any military regime ever been able to surmount problems of this magnitude.

 

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