Imran Khan is almost the prime minister of Pakistan. One way or another, his party will have enough seats now to form the government. But what does that mean for Iran?
In first glimpse, it seems like he is a more desirable option for Iran than others. Supposedly, Iran feels more comfortable with PPP in power in Pakistan, but the fact is that Imran has the most important factor for Iran’s interests as well: Not being Nawaz Sharif (or related to him). Indeed, because of the very close ties which PML-N has with KSA, Iran prefers anyone to them, but in the case of Imran Khan, it is not just because Imran is the lesser evil. Actually, his government could be in Iran’s interests in different ways.
First, he is not a pro-west politician. He has criticized U.S. decisions in the region on several occasions. Specifically, he is against US policy in Afghanistan, which is very important and influential for Iran. He also arranged a wide rally against U.S. drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2012. Accordingly, assuming Imran is in office, the most Probable scenario is that the gap between Pakistan and West, especially U.S., would increase. That would make Pakistan, which already is back to grey list of FATF and is under pressure from Donald Trump, more isolated and, most important for Iran, further from the US. In other words, now that Imran Khan is going to be the PM, Iran will see a reduction in the number of countries around it which are intimated with U.S. It worth noting that in his very first speech after the election, Imran expressed some signs in this direction by claiming that he wished relations with the US to be mutually beneficial, not one sided. This also implies that with Iran under severe pressure of the U.S’s new sanctions and Pakistan facing more cuts in foreign aids, two countries will need to be more engaged economically and with the Prime Minister Imran, the procedure will accelerate. This could make a significant change in the current situation, Considering the fact that Iran’s share of Pakistan’s trade has been under 1 percent in 2017, consisting 35m $ import from and 323 m $ export to Pakistan. It is far from their 5b $ target in their free trade agreement and a non-allied-to-the-US Pakistan, could speed up this process.
Second, India will feel more threatened from Pakistan with Khan in office and that could benefit Iran as well. For several years, India and Iran have been “feeling” that they have important shared interests and need to be more engaged and cooperate on economic and political issues, but there were always obstacles in this regard, mostly made by U.S. But the fact is that Iran is not well-defined in India’s strategic plans. To the extent that India and Pakistan are more hostile to each other, the importance of Iran will increase for India.
Third, not just that Imran Khan personally has no special relationship with Iran’s regional and non-regionals rivals, it is also the case that he is not coming from a well-stablished party. He will also find a very strong opposition in front of him too. It means that Imran Khan’s government will be a trouble-prone one which is mostly concentrated on internal issues. That appears to provide a relief from the Pakistan side for Iran. Moreover, PTI would not be able to form the government on its own due not securing the majority seats of the assembly. According to Khan, there is no chance that PTI makes a coalition with PPP or PML-N, so the only remained options are small parties which are mostly related to the extremist or fundamentalist groups, like MML which is related to Hafiz Saeed. AS a result, the west and India will face a government which naturally is not in good term with them AND share the cabinet with groups which they consider as terrorists.
And lastly, four, Imran could be referred to as a somewhat pro-Iran politician if we consider some of his rhetoric on different occasions. He strongly condemned Nawaz Sharif decisions in regard to Saudi Arabia on several occasions and defended the idea that Pakistan should not intervene in Iran-Saudi issues. He also welcomed Iran nuclear deal with big powers in 2015 and slammed Donald Trump’s remarks about Iran in 2017. These records show that Iran can expect to face a friendly figure in office when Imran forms the cabinet.
With that entire in mind, still should be remembered that Iran has proved that prefers warm relationships with Pakistan regardless of the person who is in power. Even when Nawaz Sharif was PM, his very close ties with Saudi Arabia never prevented Iran from cooperating with Pakistan. Now, Imran Khan is to be far more suitable for Iran’s interests, but Iran still should have concerns. “Imran” is not equal to “Iran”, there is an extra “M” which could bring some troubles to the equation, and that “M” stands for Pakistan’s Army.
When Nawaz Sharif was disqualified and had to resign as a Prime Minister last year, many heads automatically turned to the Pakistan’s Army (PA). The general sense at the time was that the PA had been providing force for the case because Nawaz was crossing some of army’s red lines. But now, in light of recent events and especially those which are related to the recent Pakistan election, it sounds like Nawaz’s overthrow was just part of a bigger picture of the PA’s vision of Pakistan’s future. It is a valid assumption that army has been trying to bring a third new force to power (PTI) which is naturally weaker than the previous two (PML-N and PPP) and will therefore make less trouble for their autonomy in the key triangle of Pakistan’s foreign policy, i.e. India, Afghanistan and extremist groups. Abundant evidence suggests that the army has been trying to influence the 2018 election, evidences such as: arguably deploying more than 370,000 military personnel to protect polling stations (about two thirds of the whole PA’s troops), threatening and arresting some of the journalists, politicians and even candidates who criticized military in public, claimed manipulating in the results of opinion polling in favor of TPI and against PML-N, Restricting those media (usually close to PML-N) which criticized army, the Dawn network and Geo Channel among them.
Anyway, if PA has been really the puppet master of the election, then with Imran Khan in office, we will face a more self-willed army in Pakistan and that would provide more potential for trouble and specifically, proxy wars in Afghanistan which is not in Iran’s interests. That “M” would add unnecessary uncertainty to Iran’s imminent borders and interests and that is an issue which should deal with carefully. Considering the fact that Imran Khan’s government will be shared with somewhat fundamentalist figures, the uncertainty will become more severe, especially if we remember that most of these groups are not in good term with a Shia Iran as well as the west and India.
* Hamed A. Kermani is PhD. Candidate in IR and visiting researcher at Victoria University
سایت تابناک از انتشار نظرات حاوی توهین و افترا و نوشته شده با حروف لاتین (فینگیلیش) معذور است.