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Middle East Aflame
Saudis Ask for Pakistani Troops

Saudi Arabia has requested an as-of-yet unspecified number of troops from Pakistan to assist it in securing the Kingdom, raising the prospect that the leading Gulf state might, in fear of Iran’s growing conventional and nuclear threat, turn to its nuclear-armed, Sunni ally with the big army for help. The number of soldiers involved isn’t known but is likely to be small. That could easily change: As the Financial Times notes, the Pakistanis and Saudis have an extensive history of military cooperation:

The Saudi-Pakistan defence relationship developed in the 1970s, when Pakistan’s military dictator General Zia ul-Haq sent thousands of troops for security duties in the kingdom after Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.

“In the 1980s, the Saudis were keen to keep Pakistani troops as this helped counter the Iranian threat,” says one former Pakistani army general who served in the kingdom. “For the Saudis, the relationship with Pakistan guarantees both against internal dissent and external threats.”

The relationship strengthened in 1998 when Saudi Arabia began giving oil to Pakistan to help the country overcome the effect of international financial sanctions following its maiden nuclear tests. The arrangement lasted almost three years.

More recently in early 2014, Saudi Arabia lent $1.5bn to Pakistan to shore up the country’s foreign reserves after a visit to Islamabad by then crown prince Salman. The full terms of the loan were not revealed, although Pakistani finance ministry officials said at the time the loan was interest-free.

So the Saudis have a good friend in Islamabad. And if they continue to feel threatened by Tehran, that’s where they’re likely to turn. Saudi Arabia has a lot of money and not a great army; the Pakistanis have a regionally powerful army and nukes, and is starving for cash. From the perspective of Saudi security needs, this makes perfect sense. From the perspective of regional peace, it’s a marriage made in hell.

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  • wigwag

    John Kerry is headed to Saudi Arabia right now to try to assuage Saudi concerns about the impending deal between Iran and the United States. Is there any doubt that this announcement is meant as a message to Secretary Kerry that Saudi Arabia ain’t buying what he’s selling?

    • Ellen

      Precisely. Glad to see Prof Mead writing such a smart article. Compare that to the NYTimes which recently saw fit to publish a piece about a feminist in Gaza who is protesting both against the Israeli “occupation” and the religious tyranny of Hamas. That’s really the most important subject in the world to the hipster fools at the NYT.

      Meanwhile, on the subject that may turn out to be 2d most important regarding the outcome of this Iran sellout, and that is the order of battle of the Pakistani army on the border with Iran. If Israel does launch an aerial attack on Iran, supplemented by internal sabotage at selected sites, who is going to supply the needed boots on the ground? Clearly not the Gulfies who never put their lives on the line for anything. Sisi’s troops are busy crushing their own MB and Hamas terrorists. They’re more than occupied. Jordan is fighting ISIS and has no troops to spare. The Syrian Sunni rebels are pushing back Soleimani’s army in two locations (Aleppo and the South) and he may suffer defeat there. What else is left if you want Sunni cannon fodder? The Baluchi irregulars on the Paki border and the Paki army itself. That may be the weirdest alliance ever built that will attack Iran, if Bibi gives the green light. Israel, Saudi, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, and Baluchi tribesmen, with an assist from Iranian Kurds. Stay tuned.

      • Kevin

        A Pakistani invasion of Iran would be a catastrophe for Pakistan’s army. They could shoot up some border posts and maybe conduct some air raids or the like, but it’s a long way from Baluchistan to anywhere worthwhile in Iran across some of the most inhospitable deserts on the planet. (Alexander’s army starved to death trying to match this route.) The Pakistani army simply does not have the logistical tail to pull this off. Similarly I doubt their air force coukd keep itself in operational shape long enough to do significant damage unless they resorted to nuclear weapons – and the Saudis and Gulf states have air forces of their own with the cash required to operate them.

        • Ellen

          They could tie down the Iranian IRGC in the strategically irrelevant wastelands of Baluchistan, while more important action is going on elsewhere. That would be the idea. But, there are other creative uses of the Paki army as well. Don’t underestimate the Mossad and Israeli strategic planning.

        • Fat_Man

          Alexanders army had to walk. These days they ride in Toyotas.

        • PC Master Race

          Doesn’t seem like you know much about Pakistan’s conventional forces. FYI they have indigenous SAMs, cruise missiles, subs, tanks and nuclear capable fighter jets. In a war with Iran, they’d wipe Iran out relatively easily and quickly.

    • Kevin

      The idea that Kerry could reassure the Saudis is utterly absurd and just shows how out of touch with reality this crew is.

  • Andrew Allison

    Why is it a marriage made in hell? Iran needs to be contained, and the US is obviously not going to do so.

    • JR

      Agreed 100%. To take it one step further, I’m far from convinced that a large scale intra-religious war between Sunni and Shia is a “bad” thing. As long as it is being fought with conventional weapons, what’s the harm?

      • Fat_Man

        If they can arrange it so that all of the casualties are Muslims, they can use nukes if they want to.

      • christophergreen

        By consenting to a nuclear armed Iran, Obama is arranging for a nuclear war in the Mideast.

  • Fat_Man

    Didn’t Obama introduce them?

  • f1b0nacc1

    This is the real nightmare scenario….The Iranians get their bomb (factory), and the Saudis buy bomb(s) from the Pakistanis. The Middle East turns into a nuclear death cage, the Pakistanis get to finance their jihadi state and run up tensions with India, and the whole mess just gets uglier.
    The loser in all of this….oh, well that would be us….

    • rheddles

      I’m having a hard time seeing us as necessarily the loser. That would be China and the rest of the far east that relies on the ME for petroleum. Remember the reason there were no middle easterners on Star Trek is that it takes place in the future.

      • f1b0nacc1

        If we incentivize the Saudis (and other Middle East states/statelets) to acquire nukes through a bad deal with Iran, we not only make the Middle East a more dangerous place (and yes, I cannot really say that I would shed too many tears if the whole region was turned to glass), but we will encourage them to go to less than reputable suppliers (read: Pakistan and possibly North Korea) for those nukes. This gives some rogue regimes a very large injection of cash, which will not have good consequences. This will also encourage other states (Japan, facing Chinese aggression, possibly German in Europe, etc.) to emulate this behavior, which will not lead to a safer world. There is a reason that proliferation is not something to be welcomed, and this is a good example of it.
        More to the point though, even if I don’t have much love for the Middle East’s loathsome population of miscreants, the effect of even a limited nuclear conflict there would be catastrophic for the world economy. Yes, the US is far better insulated against an oil shock (heck, I work for a company that would clean up!), but we do business with a great many countries that would suffer badly, and the secondary impact on many/most Americans would be severe. We cannot simply pretend that this isn’t going to smack us in the ghoulies too….

        • rheddles

          I would not incentivize any country to acquire nukes, but the time to take action was 1973, if it was ever possible at all and 1994 at the latest. What is amazing is how long it is taking the Iranians to develop one.

          Baraq Hussein and ValJar have been hellbent on enhancing Iranian power. That is the fundamental problem of our policy. It has gone on so long that it is now inevitable that many will suffer badly. We’re only discussing when and how.

          • f1b0nacc1

            The very subtle point you may be missing is that Iran isn’t trying to acquire a bomb, they are trying to acquire a bomb factory, which is a very, very different thing. One bomb does little for them, as it only gives them the ability to attempt a single blow before being utterly destroyed. A factory gives them the ability to devastate any target, and retain enough capacity to deter retaliation. That is what makes the stupidity of the current administration’s behavior so dangerous…they are giving Iran the opportunity to build an infrastructure to build (and distribute?) nukes in the future.
            You are not entirely mistaken that the time to stop this long ago, but if Iran can be stopped (and preferably made an example of), then other potential problems can at least be deterred. If they get away with this, not only will they be an additional problem, but other rogues (Pakistan, the Norks) will also be emboldened to misbehave.
            Finally, unlike Pakistan and the Norks, Iran has a credible conventional military that can threaten its neighbors, and the will to use it. With nukes to use as a deterrent against interference in their aggression, they will be a far more serious menace in the region than they are now.

          • rheddles

            I doubt the Iranians would ever use a bomb or distribute one if they could build it. And if the American president in office when a bomb is tested has any brains he will tell the world that if a nuke goes off anywhere and we have any doubts as to its origin we will presume it came from North Korea or Iran and respond accordingly. The value to Iran in having a bomb is that they can no longer be attacked and thuscan bully anyone in their neighborhood with impunity. The Persians will then seek to dominate the Arabs.

            And I believe Iran cannot be stopped from getting the bomb or the bomb factory without physical force. And we wouldn’t stop India or Pakistan or North Korea so why would the Iranians think we would stop them?

          • f1b0nacc1

            If the Iranians have a single bomb, your strategy makes good sense, but if they have a dozen? a hundred? This is a very different state of affairs, particularly if the Iranians simply start smuggling them into various locations? Do you really believe in a world where drug trafficking is a multi-tens of billion $$ business you are going to stop a minivan sized parcel from being smuggled?
            More to the point, even if we accepted that notion, do you honestly believe if a terrorist group detonates a bomb that ANY American president is prepared to kill millions of civilians, if the attack hasn’t come against the US? What stops the Iranians from simply denying that it is one of their bombs (or one of their terrorists, for that matter), Putin-style? The American president in office during this unhappy time might very well have no useful intellect worth discussion (the current one comes immediately to mind) or simply be too cynical or callous to respond (HRC anyone?) or unwilling to commit mass murder, etc….
            A bomb factory (as opposed to 1-2 bombs) makes this problem even more serious, as it gives a potential aggressor the ability to inflict unacceptable damage upon the US to deter even basic retaliation. The Israelis fear an Iranian bomb factory precisely because it undermines any American security guarantees. Would any American president be willing to trade, say, Los Angeles for Tel-Aviv? If forced to, the Israelis can look after themselves, but can you say the same for the Gulf States? the Saudis?

  • FriendlyGoat

    1) “Securing the Kingdom” is not “attacking Iran”. Presumably something is “insecure” inside the Kingdom. We would benefit from Saudi Arabia not going into chaos. Why not approve them hiring Pakistanis? They can’t hire us due to citizens’ disapproval for us infidels to be there, and we don’t want to be hired anyway.

    2) There is nothing really wrong with Saudis reminding Iran that they have options.

  • rheddles

    The Saudi’s also have a discontented Shia populace in the oil producing part of the country. The Hessians Pakis might be less conflicted about putting down a domestic uprising.

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