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Need to de-escalate tensions between US and Iran

The killing of high profile Iranian General Qaseem Soleimani in a US drone strike in Baghdad on 3rd January and subsequent attack by Iran on Iraqi bases in Iran sparked a fear of opening of another war front. The fact that the bases housed at time of attack no American troops and that Iran had already communicated the step beforehand meant no casualties. What is also extremely important is the tweet by Iran’s Foreign Minister JavadZarif, making it clear that Iran took and concluded proportionate measures in self-defense under article 51 of the UN Charter and do not wish escalation of war and will defend themselves against aggression. This was correctly interpreted by U.S as Iran not wanting to go further than this in military offense. However, the offensive by Iran was important not only for her domestic audience but also to bring home the point that Iran can and will retaliate.
Whereas the danger of imminent war is in the sub-text for now the need for de-escalation of hostilities is important. In particular, Soleimani’s death, head of the Quds force, has led to deep concern n Pak-Afghan region, already facing Islamist militancy with ongoing peace deal talks between U.S and Taliban.The latter has refused to sign a peace deal with U.S and an end to violence until and unless foreign troops are pulled out of Afghanistan. Though Tehran will avoid an all-out war with Washington, the possibility of her trying to damage U.S interests in Afghanistan and the Middle East cannot be ruled out. It is no secret that Iran’s influence in Afghanistan has increased dramatically over past few years along with direct engagement with the Taliban.Iran can influence upon the Taliban to shelve any talks on peace deal altogether.
WajidShamsul Hasan, former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK says, “There is a substantial Shias presence in Iraq and U.S should use her leverage to directly communicate with Shia regime of Iraq. The US should explore meaningful means to connect with the Iraqi Government, Ayatullah Sistani and Shias to start trilateral communication mechanism between the US-Iraq-Iran. In order to reduce the growing tensions, the US should press upon the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to immediately halt aerial attacks on the Houthis in Yemen. Also, the US may work on lines of approaching Russia directly or through a third party to avoid direct conflict in South Western Syria. Buffer Zone between US and Iranian backed forces also need to be established. Pakistan may also double its effort with the European partners of JCPOA to convince Washington to offer concessions to Iran to bring him on negotiating table. Turkey can also play a positive role by allowing additional Iranian gas supplies to European markets.”
If Afghanistan or/and Iraq become grounds for a proxy war between U.S and Iran, it is a bad omen for Pakistan. Therefore Pakistan cannot afford to take a stance of being ‘neutral’. She needs to act as a mediator and facilitator of peace between both.
Maulana Syed Safdar Hussain Najafi of Muzaffargarh District in Punjab, Pakistan can be a key. He is highly respected in Iraq’s government. The Shias in Pakistan exercise great influence through him in Iraq’s political dispensation. His services may be acquired to lead a delegation extending support for a prosperous Iraq.
Second, Pakistan needs to seriously consider appointing a Special Envoy to defuse the high level of tensions between U.S and Iran after consultations with both so that the nominee is mutually acceptable to them.
Third, in order to be a peace maker, Pakistan must not discontinue its civil aviation linkages for necessary supplies to Tehran. Pakistan needs to keep in mind that after Iran, her boundaries are home to the highest numbers of Shias. Any negative step will not only destroy the chance for Pakistan to defuse the situation it will also create antagonism in Pakistan’s Shia community.
Fourth, with the aim of being a peace maker and after consultations with U.S (back channel diplomacy recommended) Pakistan may sign a proposed MoU on Gawadar-Chabahar port to provide trade opportunities to Iranian businessmen.
Fifth, it is PM Khan who must seize this opportunity and personally visit both Saudi Arabia and Iraq to show solidarity with an aim to douse the burning fire. The visit must not be delegated to minions.
The fact that must be borne in mind is that the Iran pre-revolution and the Iran post-revolution are two different entities. The fallout between U.S and Iran dates back to 1979 when the Shah was overthrown. Same period when the relationship between Pakistan and Iran too underwent a change. The first sign of a thaw in relationship between U.S and Iran came in 2015 with Iran’s agreement to limit its nuclear programme. In 2018 under Trump’s watch the deal was overturned causing a constant tension. This has also caused Iranian economy to go in recession.
Uri Dubinin, Professor of the Department of Diplomacy of MGIMO-University of the RF MFA, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation defines the role of diplomacy beautifully, “What is the art of diplomacy? While the art of war lies in the ability to claim victory through the force of arms, the art of diplomacy aims to achieve the goals set through peaceful means. It is, therefore, the antithesis of using force to solve international problems. In the art of diplomacy, it is the international community’s accumulated experience that serves as a weapon, as does – and herein lies the essence of it – an innovative, creative approach to problems arising. It is on the basis of this that one acts to provide a solution.”



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