Obstacles which hindered Pak-Iran relations are now withering away, paving the way for a potentially great alliance.
Marred by sectarian violence, opposing interests, differing foreign policies and failed economic possibilities, Pakistan-Iran relations have soured throughout the years. As a result, Islamabad has seldom explored the possibility of deeper relations with its western neighbour.
Although Pakistan and Iran co-operate on a multitude of different platforms and sectors, the degree of cooperation has often been tested, and a considerable amount of blame for this falls on Pakistan’s shoulders. Shackled by its external constraints, primarily in the form of American influence, the risk of Saudi alienation, and the sanctions on Iran, Pakistan has consistently remained reluctant to pursue deeper relations. Iran, on the other hand, has shown a willingness to strengthen bilateral ties, the chief example being the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. Islamabad’s lack of interest has not gone unnoticed in Tehran.
Indignant about Pakistan’s ambivalent foreign policy, Iran has sought a closer relationship with India, which has proven to be a resourceful and trustworthy partner. In direct competition with Pakistan’s Gwadar port, Indian support helped Iran mobilise Chabahar as a major oceanic port in the region. Furthermore, Indian influence in Iran has helped India to indirectly meet its nefarious interests against Pakistan, particularly vis-a-vis Balochistan and Southern Afghanistan. As a result, Islamabad’s lack of interest in seeking a meaningful relationship with Iran has weakened its overall influence and created a region where Pakistan is becoming increasingly cornered.
However, the obstacles which once sought to hinder Pak-Iran relations are now beginning to wither away, paving the way for a potentially great alliance.
One of the biggest challenges Pakistan faces when it comes to Iran is pressure from its ally, the United States (US). America has been explicitly vocal against any form of cooperation between Iran and Pakistan, and it is no secret that it has sabotaged numerous initiatives between the two nations. However, following the war in Ukraine, America has had a change of heart. With the threat of a severe energy crisis inexorably hitting the developed and developing world, America has confronted the situation by re-engaging with countries that it once had vowed to eschew.
In March 2022, after years of estrangement, a senior American delegation had a rare face-to-face meeting with the Nicolas Maduro government in Caracas, Venezuela, the world’s most oil-rich country. The meeting had a one-point agenda: replace Russian oil with Venezuelan oil. Similar energy-focused engagements with Libya have also been undertaken by the US. More interestingly, the Biden administration has felt the JCPOA agreement (Iran Nuclear Deal) should be revived to relieve Iran of its sanctions and benefit from its abundant gas and oil supplies. Talks in Vienna are already underway and major headway is being made, highlighting the possibility that a deal could once again be struck.
America’s change in position is driven purely out of necessity for its own self-interest; however, with no end in sight in Ukraine, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the US is adopting softer attitudes toward its oil-rich adversaries, in particular Iran. For Pakistan, this is a now or never opportunity: capitalise on the west’s relaxation now and secure deals with Iran or delay the opportunity and ultimately face the wrath of the west.
Another hurdle Pakistan faces when it comes to Iran is the Saudi Arabian question. Any venture with Iran risks the upsetting of ‘brotherly’ Saudi Arabia, and although Pakistan has remained explicitly neutral in the pair’s cold war – through the training, support, and cooperation with its armed forces – it is clear that Islamabad indirectly sides with Riyadh. As a result, Pakistan’s alliance with the Saudis bars it from exploring real terms with Iran.
In the past year, however, there have been growing signs of rapprochement between the two arch rivals. Through the meditation of Iraq and Oman, Saudi Arabia and Iran have been willing to sit at the peace table and are now engaging in their fifth round of direct talks. Furthermore, with the cessation of hostilities in Yemen as well as the re-opening of the Iranian representative office in the OIC, analysts are hopeful that the two countries are finally coming to some form of an agreement, and the possibility of re-establishing diplomatic missions is not too far fetched.
As for Pakistani gains in light of such developments, they are significant. Not only can Islamabad now engage peacefully with Tehran, without alienating Saudi Arabia, but it can also facilitate further reconciliation between the two countries and emerge as a key mediator of peace in the region.
With the roadblocks to cooperation finally lifting, Pakistan and Iran can pave the way for a great alliance. This alliance can take two forms, one of an economic dimension and the other of a non-economic one. However, the beauty of a Pak-Iran alliance is not in its business prospective nor the cultural linkages but in the fact that it is mutually beneficial. At home, both Iran and Pakistan face pressing issues of different kinds, yet both sides can help each other solve their respective problems.
The major cornerstone of Pak-Iran relations has been the proposed Pakistan-Iran (IP) gas pipeline, a proposition which can mutually benefit both sides simultaneously. Stretching from South Pars all the way to Punjab, the 1900km pipeline would provide inestimable value for both Pakistan and Iran. As it currently stands, however, the IP gas pipeline is an opportunity fading away. Despite the project’s inception nearly a decade ago, the pipeline has yet to even start. Iran’s side of the pipeline is built but has simply been left to rust, while Pakistan’s side is waiting to start construction.
The causes of Pakistan’s lack of initiative is due to the abovementioned external pressure coupled with internal distrust, leading to the project’s early abandonment. However, this can all change. As stated before, Iran’s rapidly changing geopolitical image, as well as the easing of Pakistani challenges vis-a-vis foreign policy could usher in a new wave of enthusiasm. The IP gas pipeline could finally restart and ultimately benefit the two countries immensely.
Plagued with severe energy shortages, depleting indigenous sources and inchoate industries, Pakistan is on the brink of energy starvation. So far, loans and expensive imports have kept the energy sector afloat, but these are short-term solutions and are unsustainable in the long run. As for local energy sources within the country, they too have proven insufficient.
Ultimately, Pakistan will need to increase its imported energy, preferably at cheap and subsidised rates. Once revived, however, the IP gas pipeline can solve the majority of these problems. Providing 22 million cubic metres of gas a day, and electricity generation equivalent to nearly 4,500 megawatts, the pipeline would be able to meet nearly all of Pakistan’s current electricity shortfall. Furthermore, compared to its current import from countries such as Qatar, Iranian LNG is far more affordable.
From a geopolitical perspective, the IP gas pipeline can cement Pak-Iran relations and effectively thwart expanding Indian influence in the region. What’s more interesting is that in 2016, China expressed the desire to invest in the pipeline and expand it into its own borders. Iran welcomed Chinese interest and sweetened the deal by expressing interest in joining the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). If Iran joins, an unparalleled trifecta in the region could emerge, hence promoting development, peace and stability. Although it is too early to tell right now, initial willingness from different countries has shown that the IP gas pipeline could be a catalyst for extraordinary cooperation in the region and beyond.
For Iran, the IP gas pipeline could provide much-needed relief to its ailing economy. Crippled by years of brutal sanctions, Iran has failed to effectively monetise its abundant oil and gas supplies, and as a result, has suffered from abysmally low GDP figures. Notably absent from LNG and oil markets, Iran is missing out and is eager to establish itself as a force in the economic world. Moreover, Iran has lacked an iron brother-like alliance with any of its neighbours to assist in alleviating its crises. For example, Iraq is embroiled in constant turmoil and lacks stability for any strong alliance to emerge, while neighbours in the Caucasus do not see eye-to-eye with Iran. However, an economic alliance with Pakistan is not only stable and safe, but the market of 220 million people can provide ample opportunity for Iran to fulfil its economic needs.
Over the past decades, an environment of trepidation and apprehension has developed in place of a potentially fraternal relationship between Pakistan and Iran. The two countries have continually looked away from one another, opting to search thousands of miles away for rather unsustainable and short-lived alliances. However, as Pakistan and Iran unshackle themselves from the constraints of geopolitics, they must look towards one another for a better future.
Saifullah Paracha’s 18 years in an unjust system
Guantanamo is an example of state-sponsored terror and a stain on the credibility of the US against its war on terror.
It has been more than 20 years since the war in Afghanistan started. Although the war came to an end last year, what outlasted it is the Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre, hereafter referred to as ‘Gitmo’.
Gitmo was set up in January 2002 in a United States (US) naval base in Cuba to serve as the primary detention centre for suspected terrorists arrested by the US armed forces and intelligence from around the world. Undoubtedly, the American people suffered greatly during the 9/11 attacks but the subsequent methods applied by American stakeholders, especially regarding their exchanges and engagements with prisoners, raises serious questions about the United States’ credibility as a responsible state and whether it respects basic human rights as much as it boasts about them?
Shreds of evidence, unfortunately for the US, prove that there was utter disregard for the human rights or rights of Prisoners of War (POW). A clear example of that is Saifullah Paracha’s experience at Gitmo, who was arbitrarily detained, contrary and against international/domestic law. He remained at Gitmo from 2004 up until the end of October 2022, having lost 18 years of his life without any trial. What is more outrageous was his inability to appeal on November 10, 2005, as the US Senate approved an amendment that barred detainees’ right to challenge their detention via habeas corpus pleas.
Enhanced Interrogation Techniques
In the early 2000s, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) came up with what it termed “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” which were aimed at enabling the interrogators to extract as much information as they could from a detainee. However, in pursuance of those techniques, the interrogators became involved in practices that amounted to gross violations of human rights. The techniques included placing detainees in stressful positions for prolonged periods, holding them in solitary confinement, threats of further torture, exposure to extreme temperatures, and sleep deprivation for days. Psychological torture was practised along with physical torture to coerce the detainees to incriminate themselves, even if they had nothing to do with terrorism in the first place.
In the words of Oves Anwar, who serves as the director of research at the Research Society of International Law, describes Gitmo as “a stain on international justice” and a “black spot in the history of United States’ delivery of justice”. Military commissions have legally failed to serve their purpose which was to try detainees. Out of the 780 detainees, only one has been convicted by the federal court and two by the military commission. Measures were also taken to sustain Gitmo’s operation that was contrary to the international law of war detention, international human rights laws, conventions, and treaties. These systematic measures included both legislation and executive presidential orders.
According to US Vice President Dick Cheney on September 16, 2001:
“We have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will… if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for the US to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.”
The US, through the years, has gradually lost its credibility as a responsible nation that respects international law, the law of individuals, and the laws of prisoners of war. Its inhumane treatment of inmates in Guantanamo serves as sufficient proof. No civilised country can have the moral courage to undertake such arbitrary measures against foreign suspects, especially such suspects who, more often than not, were mistaken individuals or people who had nothing at all to do with Al Qaeda or the 9/11 attacks.
What happened in Guantanamo and other places similar to it amount to heinous crimes against humanity and gross violations of a person’s dignity, mental health and self-respect. Had these actions been undertaken by a country other than the US, the human rights regimes and organisations would have lobbied to such an extent against it that it would have induced condemnation from across the globe, the government would have been labelled extremist, and a regime change would have taken place in the name of freedom of individuals and their human rights. All states hold equal status as per International Law and there is no reason why the US should be treated extraordinarily.
Guantanamo is a classic example of state-sponsored terror and a stain on the credibility of the war on terror. Violence only begets more violence, and as far as Gitmo is concerned, it has only added fuel to the fire of hatred against the West.
Some films are too hard to kill
It is still a Pakistani film made by Pakistanis, filmed in Pakistan and depicting it. Shouldn’t that be reason enough?
From Cannes to Cairo, Joyland gave Pakistan many moments to be proud of, with a possible Oscar on the horizon. However, the hopes of having the film screened in Pakistan were shot down, and the Central Board of Film Censors (CBFC) played the smoking gun.
Let’s be honest though, does censorship even matter? Is it rational to have fear over a trans-love film? The belief that the film is inciting moral indecency and predilections are just a shy way of hiding the fear of a growing empathy for the transgender community, especially when this community dates far longer than the inception of this country.
The film’s exhibition licence was issued in August 2022 and was set to be screened on November 18, 2022. But in a not-so-shocking turn of events, CBFC issued a censor of the film on November 11th. A tweet from Jamaat-e-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmed on November 12th revealed Joyland’s censor certificate. The certificate grounds its reasons for written complaints, referring that the film did not conform to social and moral standards, citing Section 9 of the Motion Picture Ordinance 1979, to validate their action. An outcry for the injustice and alleged unconstitutional move made by CBFC had fans of Joyland and its cast/crew flocking to social media seeking vindication.
The main detractors of the film point out how the film is a glorification of immorality, all complaints without ever even watching the film. However, this film is not the first in Pakistan to depict a transgender person, where the majority would depict said character as the butt of the joke. I had the fortunate opportunity to watch the film, although heavily edited, and in one scene of the film, Biba (Alina Khan) overhears jokes about “what is in her pants”. She does not take that joke lightly and grabs one of the men and holds him against the wall, her hand on his neck. Biba’s response is the response of all transgender people in Pakistan: they are not a joke. Joyland’s direction places a love story between Haider and Biba, but in this case, the film does not treat it as a joke.
Violence, rape or social critique, we are not unfamiliar with; the news doesn’t hide it and WhatsApp conspiracy theory group chats don’t either. Why selective censorship, especially when promoting it would be beneficial to society and the country’s image at large?
Recently, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act (2018) was rehashed for debate, as some religious groups called the bill a promotion of ‘homosexuality’ and, again, social immorality. Plain and simple, the bill ensures that those who fall under the category of transgender, by self-determination, will be guaranteed their rights are protected and can function as a citizen within Pakistan (on paper at least).
When Biba retorts to the jokes about her, her response reflects the ridicule and criticism her gender since time immemorial. This film does promote transgender rights, building society’s empathy. There is nothing glorious about being disinherited and disowned by your family, having a higher chance of being murdered, being outcast by society and much more. The film doesn’t glorify immorality but shows the injustice and harsh judgement that minority groups such as the transgender community face on a daily basis. We as a society bottleneck minority groups believing that it’s their choice to face such a life, but for them, it is the reality, not a choice.
Censorship does not protect people from the worst parts of life. Movies such as Javed Iqbal (2022), which was censored, retell actual events of a serial killer who killed 100 young boys in Lahore. The reality of those boys being brutally murdered does not change with censorship; society has not forgotten, and certainly the boys’ families have not either. Joyland’s censorship only covers a fraction of the injustice towards the transgender community.
This film matters a great deal internationally, winning accolades from prestigious foreign film organisations, but it matters so much more for Pakistan. Its recognition highlights a chance to show the world something – the culmination of six long years from its cast and crew. One cast member, Sarwat Gilani, pleads saying,
“Don’t take away this moment of pride and joy from our people!”
It is not only about the film’s story, but Pakistan is currently having a moment to take pride in its hard work. The sweat, time, effort and tears of its film industry.
No matter the complaints, it is still a Pakistani film made by Pakistanis, filmed in Pakistan and depicting a part of Pakistan. Shouldn’t that be reason enough? While CBFC censoring the film doesn’t disqualify it from being an Oscar contender; in fact, the film has plans to screen in France on November 22nd. The traction the film is receiving hasn’t ceased, and a “high-level committee” reviewed CBFC’s decision and overturned it, allowing Pakistan a screening, and as of November 16th, the film is cleared to screen nationally. However, despite overruling CBFC’s decision, the Punjab government has promptly revoked its decision to screen Joyland in the province, while Sindh will follow through with its release.
Before the CBFC’s ban, the director of Joyland, Saim Sadiq, went on to say that the film is still legally certified to release in Punjab and Sindh. He further added that CBFC’s action was unconstitutional, saying,
“The 18th Amendment in the Constitution gives all provinces the autonomy to make their own decision.”
On the provincial level, the film was approved for screening on November 18th (prior to CBFC’s ban), so this draws the question of how the film could be banned after receiving approval.
The internet gives people many avenues to access such movies, and Joyland being screened elsewhere could segway to movie piracy. Film or no film, there will always be more people who will shed light on the plight of the transgender community and other injustices. Censorship only diverts rather than act as a preventative, and is especially pointless given the access internet provides. If the world wants to watch the film, why wouldn’t Pakistan? It is the responsibility and prerogative of the individual to decide if they want to watch the film, not some written complaints.
Video leaks for character assassination: A disgusting tactic
Engaging in such malpractices to disempower opponents reflects a sick mentality and the ugliness of Pakistani society.
Pakistan’s politics of late has become extremely ugly. In addition to the threat to the lives of politicians, the recent practice of leaking indecent videos against political figures has become quite rampant. This new trend in Pakistan’s politics is quite dangerous, and if it goes unchecked, the country will soon become hostage to anarchist forces.
Pakistan, which has seen its large swathes of land swept over by flood water, its economy floundering, its society and its politics increasingly becoming polarised, its journalists harassed and killed, had yet to see more ugliness as if it hadn’t had enough of it already.
Sadly, this trend started with the leaking of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) stalwart Muhammad Zubair’s improper video. Soon after the video made rounds on social media, Zubair’s opposition was in a glee, not knowing that one day the same will happen to them. This was followed by a brief lull, until a crude video was leaked featuring Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) senator Azam Khan Swati and his wife.
It was such an unfortunate incident that the PTI senator wept publicly and demanded that such malign practices should stop. Earlier, the same senator alleged he was picked up and tortured by intelligence officials. Such was the impact of the torture and video leak that the senator publicly named those who were involved.
Unfortunately, the trend didn’t stop here, as recently another video was seen making rounds featuring the former senator and PML-N leader Pervaiz Rashid.
Engaging in such malpractices to disempower political opponents reflects a sick mentality, which further sheds light on the ugliness of Pakistani society. Wresting power from political opponents can be done in another and far cleaner manner, without resorting to such mean and disgusting methods. Character assassination is not an old practice in Pakistan, but the recent normalisation of leaking videos to tarnish the characters of political figures is something to be worried about.
Before the video leaks, audio tapes of various political leaders were leaked. Ironically, even the most secure office in Pakistan, the Prime Minister’s office, couldn’t save itself from the assault. Moreover, the audio leaks were intended to attach illegitimacy to the political figures and thereby diminish public support. However, this didn’t produce the desired results.
These desperate attempts of democratic and non-democratic forces bode ill for the Pakistani society. The already fragile socio-political system cannot withstand further inventions in political ugliness and indecency. More ugliness will be followed by more weakness and polarisation.
The recent riverine floods left the country devastated. As a consequence, masses have been dislocated, and most of them are shelterless, without any possible relief from their woes in sight. What is worrying, however, is that there is a surge in diseases which would badly affect the infants in flood-hit areas. Not only this, but the economy is in utter disrepair, with the country’s youth growing increasingly disappointed with the rising inflation and unemployment. These concerns have, however, taken a back seat while what is more important for the political class is power grab. This struggle for power has turned uglier, leading to demeaning video leaks surfacing in abundance.
In such an asphyxiating political environment, there is no space for any progress; rather, society regresses further. Ethical limitations do exist in politics across the world, but here in Pakistan, such a concept is nowhere to be seen. In Pakistan, it is considered rather an achievement to demolish someone’s character for political gains than something to be ashamed of.
Conclusively, what is needed at this hour is a consensus among all the political parties that despite of their political differences, there should be no space allowed for an assault on the opposing political figure’s character, and an agreed upon charter should be formulated and implemented which would enumerate limitations not to be crossed by any political figure for the sake of attaining power and support. This could prove effective in reducing the intensity of the prevailing political ugliness in Pakistan.
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