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Iran-Pakistan-India Nexus – The New Silk Road

May 4, 2008

Iran moving into the big league

Kaveh L Afrasiabi

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s three-nation tour of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India and the welter of agreements and understandings reached between Tehran and these governments serve notice beyond the mere issue of energy security and Iran’s expanding role in the sub-continent’s energy market; rather, these developments signify a new stage in Iran’s foreign policy that is best described as “pan-regionalism”.

From the Persian Gulf to the Caspian region, the Caucasus, Central Asia, South Asia and beyond, thanks to its unique geographical location, Iran is in many ways an ideal connecting bridge that has not until now fully exploited its advantageous “equidistance” from India and Europe.

Straddled between the two energy hubs of the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea, Iran is a suitable conduit for trade, energy and non-energy, between the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, which are members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and the landlocked Central Asian states. The GCC comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Also, with ambitious transportation links projected under the veneer of a “north-south corridor”, Iran, Russia and India have conceived new areas of cooperation that connect northern Europe to the Indian Ocean via Iran and the Russian Federation. Already, Iran is an energy exporter to Europe through Turkey, funneling through Turkmenistan’s gas and swapping oil with Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.

Iran has plans not to lag behind the so-called new “Silk Road” project that involves China, India and the GCC states first and foremost and yet for every conceivable reason must be considered Iran-inclusive because of the country’s proximity, its expanding trade and economic cooperation with the GCC, and its own trade liberalization policies, reflected in the expansion of free-trade zones.

This is one reason why Iran is modernizing its Persian Gulf islands of Kish and Qeshm, hoping to turn them into tourist hotspots as well as hubs for trade and even finance in the near future.

The $7.6 billion Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline (IPI), meanwhile, has the potential more than any other existing Iranian project to extend the purview of Iran’s “pan-regional” approach, by organically connecting Iran to the sub-continent on a long-term basis and by providing a new Iran-Pakistan-India nexus that could in turn be used for addressing what is lacking so far, that is, more than paltry inter-regional trade.

The poor state of Iran’s trade with South Asia is reflected in the sub-optimal trade between Iran and Pakistan, as is the case between Iran and other members of the region’s 10-nation Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO).

Yet that may change, particularly if Iran (a) is inducted in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, at which it is presently an observer, and (b) the IPI project finally gets underway, in which case Iran’s greater integration into larger entities will bolster its attempt within the ECO to make this regional organization, which is headquartered in Tehran, more effective.

It is not far-fetched to think that Iran and Iraq will one day join the GCC states in a new regional cooperative framework.

Certainly, that is how Iran wants it today, as seen in the recent unveiling of Iranian plans for cooperative security and the like put forward at their hitherto recalcitrant GCC neighbors, perhaps better pitched as part of an Islamic common market.

NEW DELHI, India, May 2–The oil Ministers of India, Pakistan and Iran will soon hold talks to sort out “safety and security issues” pertaining to the $7.4 billion India-Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline that would pass through Pakistan.

For those not paying attention, the baby steps of a serious economic and political alliance within this huge region is unfolding. The keystone here is Russia. With the Sino-Russian Treaty that followed the 911 attacks, Russia and China sought to strengthen their geo-political positions out of concern for US reactions. They saw the US opportunity to expand its “sphere of influence” for security reasons. They were correct. This was the impetus for Trans-Siberia Pipeline which includes the Eastern Siberia-Pacific Pipeline. Enter the opportunity to embrace the Iranian economy and promote the IPI pipeline. Russia encourages Ahmadinejad to step up the diplomacy within the region. The Sino-Russia-Iranian empire will naturally include India, Pakistan and dip into the entire South East Asia region. We are looking at an economic alliance that will rival the EU and anything the US may do to unite the Western Hemisphere.

The next President of the United States will have to deal with a very powerful economic force. The rhetoric of attacking Iran because we are “pretty sure” they want nuclear weapons
because they hate Israel, threatens more than just Iran. The majority of the world population is not going to allow these threats to materialize without response. Much of this world is hungry and fears for its own future. The US has alienated many of these cultures. The hand of
Ahmadinejad offers hope for sustenance in a shifting global economy.

America must choose its next president carefully. The arrogance that America’s way is the ONLY way will be its doom if the rhetoric and posturing continues. We must not forget that the Third World is much larger and more desperate than the First World.

Cross Posted on BlueBloggin and American Street
  1. May 25, 2008 10:18 am

    Advocate, I agree, the chess pieces are moving faster than normal. Countries like Pakistan are definitely at risk for loosing identity. The various factions within Pakistan are being pressured to conform to a more global identity. The most dangerous part of this is the transition is happening so fast that there is no time and little room for natural adaptation. The world is encroaching into previously isolated areas. That isolation once enjoyed by tribes and communities is under attack.
    If you compare with how the isolated indigenous tribes in Brazil have had to accept government and social encroachment, their changes and adaptation took at least a century.
    The speed of encroachment for isolated Pakistani and Afghan areas is just a few decades by comparison. That is not enough time to adjust whole populations.

  2. May 25, 2008 9:43 am

    These joint ventures like pipelines are ok but when it comes to activities like movies, we need to be very careful that these things should NOT dilute Pakistan’s identity, integrity, values and above all the legacy of why Pakistan was carved out of India!

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