The Saudi Nightmare
The Mullahs Go to Islamabad

Flush with cash and no longer beset by sanctions, the President of Iran is visiting Islamabad  The Wall Street Journal reports:

As part of his charm offensive, Mr. Rouhani is expected to sign a deal to sell electricity to power-hungry Pakistan and pledge deeper commercial ties now that international sanctions against his country are being lifted.[..]

During Mr. Rouhani’s visit, he is expected to promote exports of natural gas, crude oil and other petroleum products. Discussions are also expected on a gas pipeline to connect Iran and Pakistan.

Construction on the Iranian side is largely completed. Work on the Pakistan side, however, hasn’t started, with Islamabad blaming the sanctions regime against Iran.

“We are certainly committed to the pipeline, there’s no doubt about that,” said Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Pakistan’s petroleum minister.

The two countries are also set to announce an agreement for Pakistan to import 1,100 megawatts of electricity from Iran, Pakistani officials said.

It looks as if Iran is now in a position to put offers before Pakistan that may prove very attractive. This is the Saudi nightmare come true: Iran, newly boosted by sanctions relief, uses its economic muscle to weaken Saudi in the region.

The Pakistanis have long been the Saudis ace in the hole in their struggle with Shi’a Iran: Pakistan is Sunni, has an enormous army, and nuclear weapons. The Saudis may well need those last two things; in the meantime, Pakistan badly needs money—the one thing the Saudis have had a lot of. For years, Saudi Arabia poured aid into Islamabad, with the tacit understanding that one day they could call in their favors.

But as the Sunni-Shi’a tensions heated up in the Middle East in the last year, the Pakistanis have shown signs of wavering, temporizing between Tehran and Riyadh in a number of disputes. (Hey, taking money is easy, doing heavy lifting is hard.) If Tehran is now able to use its newfound economic heft to further incentivize Islamabad to stay on the sidelines, the Saudis will be in deep trouble.

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