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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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  • Ghulam Lone

    This analysis is a bit simplistic, declaring that Pakistan is Sunni and therefore somehow a Saudi ally. The reality is more complex. Firstly, Pakistan and Iran were quite close until the 1979 revolution despite Iran being overwhelmingly Shia. Secondly, Pakistan is 20% Shia, and unlike Saudi Arabia, the Shias in Pakistan have real political power: the founder of Pakistan was Shia, and so were Prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and PM Asif Ali Zardari. Pakistan even had its own Shia military dictator too- Yahya Khan. This Shia vs Sunni argument only carries so much weight when it comes to a country as diverse as Pakistan which is so far removed from Arab Sectarianism.

    Pakistan is moving away from Saudi also because Pakistanis have become disallusioned with Saudi style Wahabbi Islam which has wreaked havoc in Pakistan. And while Iran was a center of high culture that Pakistan looked towards after independence, Saudis have always been regarded as wealthy but backwards bedouins who are openly racist against Pakistani workers in Saudi Arabia. These factors must be considered.

    • Tom

      “Iran of 2016 is a far more moderate country than Saudi Arabia is.”

      Everyone in Syria but the Alawites disagrees with you. Vigorously.

      • Fat_Man

        Obama thinks Iran is moderate. He also thinks the moon is made out of green cheese.

  • Fat_Man

    The Pakistanis are our enemies, and the Iranians are our enemies. Obama is so brilliant that he gave the Iranians hundreds of billions of dollars so that the Iranians could buy the loyalty of the Pakistanis.

    I would be a lot easier for everybody, if he were to just take a can of lighter fluid and a match to the White House and skip all these convoluted plans.

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