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Bilateral breakdown

  Published January 19, 2024  

IN a shocking turn of events, Pakistan-Iran ties have hit rock bottom in a matter of days, sparked by Tehran’s unprovoked strike in Panjgur.

On Tuesday, the caretaker prime minister and the Iranian foreign minister were exchanging pleasantries in Davos, while both navies were conducting joint drills in the Strait of Hormuz.[vocabulary/expression] 

Later that day, Tehran would strike Pakistani territory in an unprecedented move, claiming to have hit anti-Iran terrorists. Pakistan insisted two children were killed in the ill-advised action. After downgrading diplomatic ties, Pakistan on Thursday struck Iranian territory.

According to ISPR, terrorists belonging to Baloch separatist outfits were neutralised in Operation Marg Bar Samachar near Saravan. Iran claims “foreign nationals” were killed in the Pakistani action.

The immediate need is to de-escalate matters, and prevent the conflict from spiralling further. While Iran’s action in Panjgur was highly condemnable, both states must handle the fallout with care.

It is easy to dial up tensions, but this would not be in the interest of either country. There must be a frank discussion between both capitals about the common problem of militancy. Pakistan says Baloch separatists find shelter in Iran, while Tehran claims Baloch extremist groups such as Jaish al-Adl operate from this side of the border.

Over the years, both states have lost security men as well as civilians in border clashes and acts of terrorism, and a robust mechanism needs to be discussed in order to prevent the soil of either country from being used against the other.

Relations between Pakistan and Iran have been cordial since independence, and even after Iran took an ideological turn after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, matters did not deteriorate, despite Pakistan’s closeness to the American and Saudi camp. While the current crisis is indeed a grave one, both sides can still row back and prevent further acrimony, if they choose to do so.

Admittedly, it will take time to rebuild trust, but neither state can afford hostility. For Pakistan, two borders — India and Afghanistan — remain tense; therefore, it is not in this country’s interest to see hostilities break out at its frontier with Iran [punctuation markss]. Pakistan should seek iron-clad guarantees from the Iranian leadership that its territorial sovereignty will not be violated again.

Thereafter, diplomatic and security officials need to engage regularly to thwart the stratagems of violent non-state actors. Common friends, primarily China and Turkiye, have offered their services to mediate. Tehran and Islamabad should consider these offers positively.

Moreover, bilateral contacts need to be established at the highest levels in both states in order to build confidence and prevent a worsening of the situation. Malign forces would like to see this crisis explode; leaders in both capitals must ensure this does not happen.

Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2024

Facing a whitewash?

   Published January 19, 2024    

THE start to the T20 World Cup year has been far from ideal for Pakistan. Having already lost the five-match series against New Zealand, with two games still to go, Shaheen Shah Afridi’s men face the prospect of a whitewash. They are now five games without a win in a T20 International, the run stretching back to last April. For Shaheen, it has been a tough beginning as captain. Pakistan bowlers, notably Haris Rauf, have bled runs, New Zealand making over 220 in two of the matches so far. Babar Azam made half-centuries in all the three matches played but Pakistan failed in their chase each time. With the World Cup in the US and Caribbean set to begin in June, and Pakistan grouped with India, Ireland, the US and Canada, the team needs to pull up its socks. For a start, it could win the last two matches against New Zealand.

However, it is easier said than done, especially with Finn Allen tearing into Pakistan’s bowling attack in every game. In the third game, he hit a record-tying 16 sixes and was particularly severe on Haris, in whose defence Shaheen referred to the small size of stadiums in New Zealand. But Pakistan’s once-feared pace attack, comprising the same bowlers with the exception of the injured Naseem Shah, is lacking bite. For the series, Babar was demoted from his opening slot but has continued to pile up the runs. Saim Ayub, the youngster who replaced him as opener, has only shown flashes. But the batters have faced challenges after the team’s bowlers have been hit to all parts. Babar has not received support from the other end to drive Pakistan to victory, with the middle and lower order not contributing enough. Shaheen has said Pakistan are working in the matches before the World Cup — they also play a four-match series against England — to find the best combination. They need to find it soon.

Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2024

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