Iran Embraces Belt and Road

MIRZA ASLAM BEG: The Fundamental Blow has been delivered creating the Magical Realism. Some 45 years back, Prime Minister Bhutto established the Strategic Linkage with China by opening the Karakoram Highway across Khunjerab Pass. That helped us to build bed-rock of the “Strategic Pivot of our Defense Forces” which now anchors the CPEC armada, known as Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Similarly, Iran brutalized by 40 years of crippling sanctions and embargoes, decided to embrace the BRI, creating shock waves, that have changed the strategic landscape of the region. The objective, as defined in the draft is: “Two ancient Asian cultures, two partners in the sectors of trade, economy, politics, culture and security, with similar outlook and many mutual bilateral and multilateral interests will consider one another strategic partners.”

There are nearly 100 projects cited in the document with Chinese investment, while Iran is to provide regular and heavily discounted supply of oil to China for the next 25 years.

There are host of opportunities now for Iran to trade in Chinese currency known as Renminbi: Strategic Defense Partnership (SDP) will help develop operational capability of Iranian Armed Forces, as Pakistan was able to achieve during the period 1980-90. At present the high priority for Iran could be to defeat the threat from Israeli F35 aircraft, which reportedly have caused damage to Iranian nuclear facilities, particularly the one at Netanz. The draft also talks about “deepening military cooperation, with joint training and exercises, joint research and weapons development & intelligence sharing.” Sky is the limit.

Infrastructure Development:

China is to invest US$ 120 billion for upgrading Iran’s road infrastructure beginning with 2,300 kilometer roads that will link Tehran with Urumqi, already linked with Gwadar under the “New Silk Road”. The road link when completed would have an ambitious plan to provide connectivity with whole of Central Asia, and thereafter via Turkey into Europe, a development, that soon may lead to political and economic integration of Eurasia. There are also plans to build the 628 KM – Chabahar-Zahidan road that will be extended to Zaranj, across the borders to Afghanistan.

The development and electrification of the main 900 kilometer railway line connecting Tehran to Mashhad is on priority.

Another project to be taken up, is the completion of Tehran–Qum-Isfahan, high-speed railway, extending north-west to Tabriz, which is home to a number of key sites relating to oil, gas and petrochemicals. It is also the starting point for Tabriz-Ankara gas pipeline.

Petro-Chemicals Industries

Major portion of US$ 280 billion is earmarked for developing Iran’s petrochemical, oil and gas industries which have suffered immensely as a result of US-led economic sanctions.

Telecommunication and Cyber Space

The draft agreement also talks about China building infrastructure for 5G telecommunication network in Iran. This would see Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei enter the Iranian market – a company that has come under severe US sanctions and banned by several countries.

Chinese global positioning system, BeiDou, will also to assist Iran’s cyber space in regulating what is already there in the country. Thus, potentially “paving the way for Iran to develop a China-like “great firewall”.

There are several strategically important developments, such as bases at Djibouti and Keshm Island in the Persian Gulf; free trade zones in Maku, near Abadan; the proposed tie-up between Gwadar port and Chabahar; the offered interests to China in the Bandar-e-Jask port, 350 km from Chabahar and the duty free zone there.

These developments pose a direct challenge to both Western, more specifically, American economic interests, creating new geopolitical flashpoints.

The Magical Realism

The changing Strategic Landscape defines the contours of the new world order. Quote: “America’s knee on Iran’s neck has been lifted.” “Dramatic changes in world political thought and balance of power have occurred.” “With one of the highest literary rates, Americans are showing total disconnect between education and commonsense.”

“A new geostrategic Economic Order, comprising China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia is the emerging reality, which beckons Russia to join for easy reach to the warm waters of the Arabian Sea.” “It all augers well for Pakistan.”

America and India will soon face the coupe-de-grace in Afghanistan, as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) becomes a reality. America is allergic to IEA. Since 1989, treacherously America has prevented the establishment of IEA. Recently, when it signed the Exit Plan from Afghanistan the words: “America does not recognize the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” appeared about a dozen times in the peace accord document. No US government official signed the document, either demonstrating America’s crude diplomatic mannerism.

The freedom movement in Kashmir will gain impetus after changes in Afghanistan, and the Jihadis return to Kashmir, as it happened in 1990, forcing India to quit or grant the right of self-determination, as the honorable option.

Options and Opportunities

Pakistan must fortify connectivity both with Iran and Afghanistan:

  • Complete the Pakistan-Iran gas pipe line as well as the parallel road and railway lines.
  • Upgrade the rail and road network from Quetta to Zahidan.
  • Extend and upgrade the road and railways from Quetta and Peshawar to Afghanistan and link up with Central Asia.
  • Remain mindful of the ‘extreme pressure’ expected from the US and its Asia-Pacific partners, trying to save the crumbling.

American Order

Iran-China Strategic Partnership has kicked up a geopolitical storm, defining the contours of the New World Order, which promises interdependence, as key to economic and social progress.

China has succeeded building a financial system that bypasses the US. It’s strategic defeat of the US and its “maximum pressure” policy.

World is witnessing the dawn of a new era under the emerging logic of conflict:

“China is the only country in recent decades that has become the world’s second largest economy without resorting to warfare, colonialism or slavery, whereas the US has waged unjustified wars and military operations in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and other Muslim countries, spending over US$ 6 trillion, causing over 800,000 deaths and displacing tens of millions.”

The writer, a retired 4-star General, is former Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Pakistan Army

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