Considering Pakistan, world media tend to focus on its relations with Afghanistan and India, and Iran is interested in them in terms of this country's confrontation with Israel and the Arab monarchies of the Gulf or its interaction with Moscow and Washington. Meanwhile, these states form a common geopolitical space that unites the Middle East, Central and South Asia.
Their relations determine the state of affairs at BSV in a number of areas - from the routes of cross-border gas pipelines competing with each other to the effectiveness of the fight against drug trafficking. Consider the relations between these three countries and their prospects, based on the work of experts of the Institute of the Middle East N. Zamaraeva and D. Karpov.
Friendship gas pipelines
The official background of Iranian-Pakistani relations showed a visit of 25 – 26 in March to Islamabad by the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hassan Rouhani. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who represented the host country, and President Rouhani simultaneously came to power in 2013. They met for the third time. Sharif, after becoming prime minister, joined the anti-Iran sanctions regime, although his predecessor, President Asif Ali Zardari, in March 2013, at the peak of Iran’s isolation, signed a hydrocarbon contract with Tehran. In February, 2016, the Pakistan government lifted sanctions against Iran after the United States and EU countries.
Tehran is interested in developing bilateral trade with Pakistan (increasing its volume to five billion dollars over five years), strengthening regional cooperation on the Chinese New Silk Road, as well as promoting regional energy projects. Islamabad expects Tehran to eliminate non-tariff barriers to textiles, rice, fruit, other agricultural products and to conclude a free trade agreement. Iran is ready to provide Pakistan with access to resources: gas, oil and electricity. In particular, it proposes to increase the supply of the latest from 100 megawatts in 2016 to 3000, primarily to the border areas of Baluchistan.
Iran expects Pakistan to sell its part of the hydrocarbon contract worth 7,5 with a billion dollars signed in March to 2013, that is, to complete the construction of the 1800 gas pipeline section on its territory. It is planned that the highway will connect the South Pars field with the Pakistani port of Karachi. Islamabad explains the delay in construction by the lack of funding, but in fact Sharif took into account the positions of the United States and Saudi Arabia, who are lobbying for the TAPI-Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline.
At the same time, according to experts, the Pakistan-Iranian pipe will be built, because Beijing is interested in it. The project of the Sino-Pakistani economic corridor (KPEK, cost - 2015 billion dollars) implemented with 46, among other things, aims to pump Iranian gas to the PRC, diverting the IRP as a buyer and a transitory at the same time. In 2015, the main amateur began construction work on the section between Karachi and the port of Gwadar, 70 kilometers from the Iranian border. When this section of the pipeline is commissioned, Pakistan will lay the remaining section towards Iran. Tehran is interested in the construction of the highway connecting Gwadar with Iranian Chahbahar.
The main security issue for Tehran and Islamabad is the protection of the interstate border (900 kilometers). The main costs of its arrangement are borne by Iran. He repeatedly blamed Pakistan for the activity of terrorist groups in the Iranian provinces of Sistan and Baluchistan. As in 2009 – 2013, the Afghan issue is on the agenda of bilateral negotiations. Iran agreed with Pakistan’s proposal to hold tripartite consultations with the participation of Afghanistan. At the same time, Islamabad assigns Tehran the role of a diplomatic mediator, not responding to his proposal to conduct a joint military campaign against the militants.
Borders of extremism
Evidence of a high level of terrorist threat in Pakistan was an explosion in Lahore Park, where Christians celebrated Easter. Responsibility assumed “Jamaat al-Ahrar,” which is considered an offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban. A characteristic feature of the group is the commission of its attacks against Christians. More than 70 people died in Lahore. Previously, extremist attacks were usually Hindu or Shiite.
The terrorist attack in Lahore is the response of conservative religious circles in Pakistan, primarily in Punjab, to the army’s policy of suppressing radicals. Punjab and Kashmir are the main cradles of religious fanaticism, which the Pakistani authorities supported, directing it against India, and then the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. This policy was especially popular during the time of M. Zia ul-Haq (Pakistan’s president at 1978 – 1988), whom the Americans and Saudis considered the only figure capable of minimizing the influence of the USSR in the region, giving him six billion dollars a year. The money went to the cultivation of religious extremism and the conduct of subversion.
As it always happens, the radicals got out of control and they themselves wanted to become power. The question of regaining control over the country will be resolved only after a long struggle. While the Pakistani authorities are conducting episodic reforms in individual states in order to probe the mood of the population regarding the establishment of a religious tolerance regime. So, last February, a bill was passed in Sindh that would allow Hindus to officially register their marriages. In March, Pakistan is legally allowed to celebrate the Christian Easter, as well as Hindu holidays.
The Pakistani authorities are concerned about the situation in Punjab. On March 28, Army Chief of Staff General R. Sharif received permission from the Prime Minister to conduct the third phase of a special operation of the military in this province with a significant increase in their presence, as well as the right to extrajudicial detentions and interrogations in connection with the operation to eliminate the extremist underground in Eastern Pakistan’s provinces called Zarb al-Zab. The attack in Lahore is a direct result of military activity. It’s too early to talk about any real connection between militants from Jamaat al-Ahrar and the Taliban. The latter are divided, concerned about the power struggle within their ranks and are interested in establishing their own control over Afghanistan.
It is necessary to distinguish between the Taliban and extremist groups in Punjab and Kashmir such as “Lashkar e-Toiba”. They were created with different goals. The Taliban - to spread Pakistani influence in Afghanistan, "Lashkar e-Toiba" - for subversive work against India. There are no data that would prove the interaction and coordination between them. So the terrorist attack in Lahore is connected with the course of Islamabad on the liberalization of inter-religious relations. And at the same time, of particular concern is the fact that the nuclear weapons. Pakistan is entering a period of political turbulence and a split of elites, as indicated by the increased independence of previously fully controlled extremist military groups. This happens when the control of the center weakens and the struggle for power begins in the upper echelons of the establishment.
Who rules the Taliban
The prospects for resolving the situation in Afghanistan after the final withdrawal of American troops from there are absolutely unclear. The Taliban made it clear that they are not ready for peace talks. This buried the hopes of the international quartet (Afghanistan, PRC, USA and Pakistan) for a breakthrough in this area. In February, the four members said that there are prerequisites for the official invitation of the Taliban to the negotiation process, but this is not and is not expected. As a “consolation prize”, the peacekeepers received the readiness of field commander and head of the Hizb al-Islami party G. Hekmatyar to join the peace consultations. He himself is hiding in Pakistan, and his group is only a few hundred fighters. No significant influence on the situation in Afghanistan.
17 March unexpectedly appeared an audio message from the nominal head of the Taliban, Mullah Mansur, who, after an assassination attempt on him by his fellows in December last year, kept silent, did not mean that he was rumored to have been treated after being seriously wounded, or died. Before the assassination, he advocated the start of direct negotiations, now he urged not to go to a peace agreement until the conditions of the Taliban were fulfilled, and to intensify hostilities. At the same time, Taliban activity is already high. Unlike all past years, including the Soviet presence in Afghanistan, they fought in the 2015 year without a break in the harsh winter months.
At this stage, the Taliban have a strategic initiative. Not to mention the successes of the units of the movement in the north of the country, where their mass presence had not been noted before, in February they achieved military victories in Helmand province. Capturing five of the 12 districts of this province, NATO was forced to send there an additional corps of advisers and several hundred military, led by General Andrew Rolling. To start peace negotiations, the Taliban demand that the prerequisites be fulfilled: the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, the release of captured fighters, the removal of the movement and its commanders from the black list of the UN terrorist organizations. Plus, holding peace consultations exclusively through the Taliban office in Qatar.
Kabul is categorically against it, because it means the international legitimization of the Taliban. But this is not the main thing. After last year’s events related to the announcement of the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar and the appointment of Mansur to his position, a movement began in the movement. Among the main opponents inside the movement were both the leader of the military wing, Mullah Kayyum, and the head of the Qatari office of M. Aga. Immediately after that, the Qatari office was officially closed. But in Afghanistan itself, supporters of the banned Islamic State in Russia appeared. The emergence of the IG and the closure of the Qatari office are interconnected by the role of Doha in these events, which made it clear to Islamabad and the other members of the Quartet that it would not be possible to do without Qatar in the inter-Afghan reconciliation.
Mullah Mansur’s statement about the continuation of the struggle and the condition of the dominant role of the Qatari Taliban office show that tacit cooperation is beginning between Islamabad and Doha to overcome the fragmentation of the Taliban. Symbolic in this regard, the words of Pakistani Prime Minister for Foreign Affairs S. Aziz, who publicly admitted that logistical, medical and logistical support is being provided to the Taliban, but Islamabad does not have any influence on them. This is true. Unlike old times, when Mullah Omar commanded the Taliban, Pakistani security forces lost control of a significant part of the Taliban. That is why they concealed the fact of Omar’s death for several years. Mullah Mansour is a longtime creator of Pakistan's interdepartmental intelligence. All his statements are agreed with the curators. And calls for further intensification of the armed struggle is an indicator that Islamabad decided to return to the original platform of his vision of appeasement in Afghanistan.
Recruits for Yemen
Speaking more simply, he acknowledged the unpromising cooperation with Kabul and Washington on this topic. The withdrawal of US and NATO troops would mean the capture of Kabul in a short time. To solve this problem, the Taliban will overcome the split in their ranks. So the situation in Afghanistan is returning to the intensification of the civil war. Attempts to reach an agreement with Kabul were considered meaningless by Islamabad. This is caused not only by the strengthening of the positions of supporters of the rejection of a compromise with the Taliban. The main thing is that Islamabad does not fully control the Taliban movement. In this regard, as the first priority task, the idea of warfare stands out in order to re-cement the movement and bring it under control.
Naturally, about any military victory of the Taliban before the withdrawal of foreign troops is not in principle. Pakistan needs to regain control of the Taliban, without which it’s pointless for peaceful consultations. True, the vacuum has been filled by other regional players, and here we are again returning to Iran, although the idea of establishing contacts between Shiite Iran and the Sunni Taliban recently seemed like a monstrous heresy.
Secret contacts between Iranian security officials and a number of Taliban field commanders caused alarm in the leadership of Pakistan and the Arabian monarchies, primarily KSA and the UAE. According to Islamabad, such contacts are carried out by representatives of the IRGC, and the Iranian Ministry of Information (which is a special service). According to the inter-agency intelligence of Pakistan, the consultations were initiated by Tehran. In September, the NIRC 2015 operatives met with Mullah Mansour. Negotiations ended unsuccessfully. Mansur preferred to collaborate with the Pakistanis.
The emissaries of the IRGC made contact with the main rival of Mullah Mansur, the former commander of the Taliban military wing Abdul Kayum Zakir. Pakistani intelligence claims that this field commander receives help from the Iranians with weapons and ammunition, which means that the negotiations were fruitful.
Almost all the high-profile terrorist attacks against foreign targets in Afghanistan were carried out by the Kayum militants. Rouhani’s visit to Islamabad did not dispel the concern of Pakistanis and representatives of the Arabian monarchies. The head of the Afghan National Security Service and the country's president, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, appealed to influence or respond to the growing Iranian expansion to the head of the US diplomatic mission in Kabul, D. Lindwall, but Washington was silent.
According to Islamabad, the head of the intelligence agency of the IRGC, Hussein Tayeb, oversees the sphere of increasing Iranian influence in Afghanistan, on whose territory the field station of guards was established as part of the 20 – 25 operatives. Tayeb initiated training for Hazara Shiite militia in Iran and Afghanistan, in areas of traditional residence of Hazaras. After preparation, they are sent to participate in the hostilities in Syria, Iraq and Yemen (on the side of the Housits). Recently, the flow of Hazaras to Yemen has increased significantly. Moreover, the head of the intelligence of the IRGC personally takes part in the recruitment of new fighters in Afghanistan. In the past two months, the process has intensified. Additional training camps were established for the Hazaras in the provinces of Bamyan and Herat.
An agreement was reached with the Taliban that they would not attack the positions of Hazaras. Coordination of efforts against supporters of the IG and commanders who remained loyal to Mulla Mansur has been established. In addition to weapons and ammunition, fighters from Kayum detachments receive money from the Iranians through the IRGC financing system. Several hundred Taliban Afghans are undergoing military training in Iran under the supervision of instructors from the IRGC. Three camps have been organized for them - near Tehran, Kerman and Zahedan.
The rise of Iranian influence in Afghanistan was predictable. His distribution to the unconventional sphere for Tehran was unexpected. The relationship between Pashtuns and Hazaras has always been extremely tense. But this alliance and alliance of the military wing of the Taliban with the Iranians is well illustrated by the obvious fact that the Pakistanis, whose brainchild was originally the Taliban, lost control of it, at least over its significant and most combat-ready part.
Iran needed to expand its presence in Afghanistan, at least for reasons of security and a long joint border. But the interests of Tehran extend further. He seeks to create a zone of influence in the zones of compact residence of the confessionally related Hazaras, in which the past militia is supposed to be the main military force. An Afghan equivalent of the Lebanese Hezbollah is being formed. This model is implemented by the IRGC in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, for which it is going to cooperate with the Taliban. The latter and Tehran have a common task - to limit, and it is better to destroy the spread of the local IG. Rather, the part of the Taliban field commanders who are under control and in the sphere of influence of Qatar.
The Iranian secret services tried to establish contacts with this part of the Pashtuns and even invited M. Agu, the Qatari office, to consultations in the summer of 2015. Negotiations failed. The failure of Doha’s attempt to play its card in Afghanistan is also in the series of tasks that the Iranians are solving by activating cooperation with a part of the Taliban. For Kayum in the conditions of the struggle for power in the Taliban and the exit in this connection from the control of Pakistan's inter-agency intelligence, the question of acquiring an influential foreign sponsor who would provide his troops with logistical base and equipment is vital. For this, he is ready to close his eyes on the hostility between the Pashtuns and the Hazaras, as well as confessional prejudices. Iran is increasing its influence in Afghanistan at the expense of Pakistanis. Another "like-minded terrarium".