By Reza Moshfegh

China will fill the gap left by the U.S. in West Asia: Pakistani expert

May 4, 2021 - 15:10

TEHRAN – Noting that China is not an "interventionist power," a Pakistani journalist says that Beijing is going to fill the gap left by Washington in West Asia.

"Chinese engagements with regional countries will also ensure defence cooperation as Chinese energy needs which are expected to increase manifold come from West Asia, and China will fill the gap left by the U.S. in the region," Mobeen Jafar Mir tells the Tehran Times.
While China is searching for new ties in West Asia to expand its trade and find larger markets, some Western critics warn about Chinese expansionist plans.   
However, the Pakistani expert in international relations believes that "China is not an interventionist power and its stakes in the Persian Gulf will encourage it to maintain peace and stability there."
Biden administration is trying to portray China as a threat warning about Chinese possible military hegemony after finding a foothold in West Asia and Turkey. 
But political observers underscore Chinese economic plans and say that Beijing is reluctant to enter a military competition with Washington.
Following is the text of the interview:

Q: What is the importance of Pakistan for the economy of Asia and West Asia?

A: Pakistan is a crucial factor in bringing lasting stability in Asia, particularly in South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East (West Asia). Two significant conflicts in the region posing threats to Asia's stability and prosperity are the Kashmir conflict and the interminable war in Afghanistan. Pakistan is a primary stakeholder in both these crises, and no enduring solution can be achieved without its proactive involvement. 

The geostrategic importance of Pakistan is an important element in materializing Chinese access to the Middle East (West Asia) and Africa through the Arabian Sea. As Iran will remain central to Chinese energy policy and to transport Iranian oil to China, Pakistan will be the only choice given political instability and deteriorating security in the war-ravaged Afghanistan. 

Q:  How do you read china's moves to extend its economic ties with Asian countries, including Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan?

A: Chinese plan to develop its economic exchanges with Asian countries is a positive step towards regional development and prosperity. Iranian envoy to Pakistan Ambassador Seyyed Mohammad Ali Hosseini has already hinted at forming a new bloc of five countries – Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, China and Russia – to enhance regional trade and connectivity. It will boost the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) efficiency, a political and economic intergovernmental organization of Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan. 

Chinese economic rise will mitigate the economic fallouts of western imposed sanctions on Iran, and the geographic contiguity of Pakistan, a friendly nation to both China and Iran, can act as a conduit to stronger regional integration and stability.  

Iran and China have been engaging tremendously even when Iran was reeling under punitive economic sanctions slapped by the UN, U.S. and EU. In fact, China was one of the countries that had received an exemption to trade with Iran. 

Chinese engagements with regional countries will also ensure defense cooperation as Chinese energy needs, which are expected to increase manifold come from West Asia and China, will fill the gap left by the U.S. in the region. China is not an interventionist power, and its stakes in the Persian Gulf will encourage it to maintain peace and stability there. It will be a welcoming sign for political and security dimensions in the Middle East (West Asia), a region always remaining under the shadow of political chaos.

Q: What are Imran Khan's main plans to confront terrorist groups in Pakistan and its neighboring countries?

A: Pakistan has played a significant role in countering terrorism within its boundaries and its cooperation for tackling international terrorism is indispensable. The Talibanization of the Pashtun border areas was posing grave threats 22 Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan has ensured economic development and political integration of these long-neglected areas under a national umbrella. Across the border in eastern and southern Afghanistan, such economic development appeared like a pipe dream due to the poor security situation in Afghanistan. India exploits the poor situation as there are verified proofs of Indian involvement in shoring up anti-Pakistan elements from Afghan soil. It revives terrorism in the region whenever the end of terrorist networks draws near. India aims at sabotaging CPEC through supporting anti-Pakistani outfits, like TTP, both militarily and economically. 

As far as Prime Minister Imran Khan's policy towards countering terrorism is concerned, he has made it a cornerstone of his policy to prevent extremism in all its forms and manifestations. He has expedited efforts at taking stringent actions against the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Pakistan has been placed in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) 'greylist'. The Imran Khan-led government gives it an overriding priority to remove Pakistan from it as it tarnishes Pakistan's image alone hurting financial interests of Pakistan. The government has taken strict actions against the Jaish-e-Mohammad, another extremist group and handed imprisonments to notable heads of such militant groups.

Pakistan had compiled a dossier, which contained concrete evidence that was presented of Indian involvement in spreading terrorism in Pakistan and was handed over to the UN and other governments. Unfortunately, no one raised their voice due to their vested interests with India. 

Pakistan has also devised a National Action Plan (NAP) to counter terrorism at home. 

"Chinese economic rise will mitigate the economic fallouts of western imposed sanctions on Iran, and the geographic contiguity of Pakistan, a friendly nation to both China and Iran, can act as a conduit to stronger regional integration and stability."

Q: How can Pakistan establish a balance in its ties with Iran and its regional rival, Saudi Arabia?

A: Islamabad can play a pivotal role in mending fences between Iran and Saudi Arabia through its neutral foreign policy towards the Muslim world. If we closely examine the foreign policy approach of Pakistan towards the deepening regional rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia or when the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) were facing disputes among them, Pakistan played a role to unite the Muslim world without taking any side in conflicts. 

Despite being a Sunni-majority state, Pakistan has the second-largest Shia Muslim population outside Iran. Establishing a balance in its ties with both Islamic states is necessary for its domestic stability as Pakistani history is long punctuated with sectarian violence. Resultantly, it is cautious about being drawn into regional rivalry along sectarian lines. 
Western sanctions on Iran have remained an obstacle in consolidating deep economic ties between Tehran and Islamabad and have given the impression that Pakistan is closer to Saudi Arabia due to ideological affinity, economic dependence and military ties. The Biden administration's decision to lift sanctions from Tehran and massive Chinese economic engagements with Iran are two rays of hope that can bring both neighbor states nearer and address concerns of each other. 

Q:  What are the main commonalities between Iran and Pakistan?

Pakistan and Iran share religious, cultural, historical and geographical bonds. Iran was the first country that recognized Pakistan in 1947, and Pakistan was the first state to reestablish ties with Iran after the Islamic revolution despite facing international pressure. Pakistan did not become a part of Saudi-led intervention in Yemen in 2015 when its parliament refused to lend political and military support to a sensitive issue concerning the Muslim world. Iran and Pakistan were on the same page to find solutions to the Muslim world's issues through diplomatic and peaceful means.  

Similarly, when Riyadh formed a 41-country Islamic Military Alliance (IMA) where Shia majority Iran was excluded, Islamabad invited Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and assured him of its neutrality by making clear that the alliance was not an anti-Shia military force. In 2016, both countries agreed to initiate joint counterterrorism efforts against the militant group Islamic State (IS). 

Bringing lasting peace in Afghanistan, tackling terrorism in the region and being a part of Chinese economic integration, there are many more commonalities existing between Pakistan and Iran. 

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