Category Archives: The Middle East

PIIA Roundtable on Iran with Dr Syed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour

On Friday, July 19 2019, Dr. Syed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour, President of the famous Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS), visited us at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) for a roundtable on Iran’s relationship with the United States and how it is influencing the course of events in the region. He said that in order to understand the question of why Iran is the way it is today, it is important to comprehend three integral factors – the United States’ contradictory policies with Iran, the resulting state of bitterness, and an uneven assessment of the available possibilities. By laying emphasis on the contradictory policies of the United States, during very tense times, Dr. Kazem sought to explain how certain inconsistencies in the harsh policies of the United States have been a significant source of tension between the two countries, especially when pursuing negotiations and settling agreements. Watch Video

He said that negotiations between the United States and Iran continued for twelve years before the Americans decided to withdraw itself from further negotiations. In this regard, Dr. Kazem explained how Iran wasn’t doing anything wrong and it was in fact merely abiding by the negotiations. Even now, he expressed that Iran is willing to negotiate, however, in this era of nationhood and nationalism, Iran has to defend itself – its integrity and sovereignty. Hence, according to him, maximum pressure from the United States is likely to bring maximum resistance from Iran as well. He also explained that contradictory American policies have resulted in a state of bitterness where one has to choose from the limited alternatives available, that is cooperation and confrontation. Talking about Pakistan and Turkey and their relationship with Iran, Dr. Kazem said that Iran, Pakistan and Turkey are all regional players. He further explained that they all have stakes in the region, and are connected through a regional perspective. Continue reading

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Filed under Discussion, Events, Iran, Nuclear Energy, Peace building, PIIA, The Middle East, UK, United States

Trump’s “Maximum Pressure” Doctrine: A Terrible Miscalculation

Trump represents the height of dysfunction in the US and the negative consequences of blindly pandering to a pro-Israel lobby and the military-industrial complex’s interests.

While the US and Saudi Arabia continue to accuse Iran of creating instability in the region, it would benefit Trump greatly if he turned his gaze inwards to demonstrate some degree of reflection. When one considers the current crisis and its motivations, it is fairly reasonable to reach the conclusion that Trump instigated a crisis in order to carry out his “maximum pressure” strategy against Iran. Trump incorrectly predicted that his move would be successful in causing the Iranians to capitulate to US demands for Iran to stop funding proxy wars and discontinue its ballistic missiles program. A victory of this nature would have boosted Trump’s credibility in the upcoming US elections while showing that a mediation-oriented leftist approach is wrong. However, Trump’s simple-minded plan has clearly failed as Iran has not backed down and continues to challenge the US on an almost equal footing.

Iran has retaliated in response to the earlier seizure of Grace I (by the UK on the directions of the US) by attempting to halt a UK ship and then by towing the Panamanian-flagged tanker, Riah, to its port for technical repairs in response to a distress signal issued by the tanker. While it is likely that the Riah did not have technical issues, Iran is coating its retaliatory efforts in strategic statements in a similar vein to those of the British who claimed that the reason for the seizure of Grace I was due to EU sanctions against Syria. It is worth noting that the EU sanctions have been placed on Syria since 2014 yet it is only now in the midst of tension that they seem to be remembered in the case of Iran exporting its oil. Continue reading

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Filed under Disarmament, Discussion, Europe, Iran, Politics, Syria, The Middle East, Trump, United States

Qatar and the Global Energy Market: The Politics of Natural Gas

Pakistan’s position in this dilemma is unique; it enjoys ties with Qatar, as well as with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

On 22 June 2019, Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani arrived in Pakistan on the invitation of Prime Minister Imran Khan for a two-day state visit. The state visit was specifically aimed at strengthening bilateral ties and improving cooperation in diverse fields between Qatar and Pakistan. In addition to the one-on-one talks between the Emir, Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Arif Alvi respectively, delegation-level meetings were also conducted between representatives of both countries. Notably, one of the most important results of this visit was the subsequent pledge for mutual cooperation with regard to gas exploration and the energy sector. The sheer competitiveness of the energy market is a stark reality. In a bid to secure a pivotal multi-billion-dollar supply contract, the Qataris reduced prices of liquefied natural gas (LNG) for Pakistan in May 2019.

With Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates both offering enticing offers concerning deferred oil and LNG payments for Pakistan, Qatar sought to modify LNG prices in order to successfully secure the deal. It is reported that presently, Qatar exports ‘500 mmcfd [million cubic feet per day] to Pakistan under a 15-year agreement struck at 13.37% of Brent crude price.’[i] Pakistan has been negotiating with a number of countries including Russia, Turkey, Malaysia, Azerbaijan and Italy with regard to attaining long-term gas deals. Saudi Arabia (and state-owned petroleum and natural gas company Aramco) has also shown interest in securing a gas deal with Pakistan. Continue reading

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Filed under Discussion, Economy, Energy, Pakistan, Pakistan Horizon, Politics, Russia, The Middle East

Analysis: Iran and the Drone Standoff

If Iran plays its cards wisely, it may gain more prestige than the US out of this incident … Iran, the scapegoat for Trump’s goals, has admirably held its ground in the face of a greater power.

The world breathed a sigh of relief when President Trump called off US airstrikes on three Iranian targets this Friday in response to the shooting down of the US Global Hawk surveillance drone. “I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone,” he said, adding that he was “in no hurry” to confront Iran. It is rather ironic that the US should present the sparing of human lives as its key point in calling off the attack when it has profited by selling millions of dollars’ worth of arms to different states involved in regional conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. When trying to understand US behavior it is worth considering two factors: Trump’s short-sighted focus on re-election coupled with the fact he’s a businessman in the guise of a politician.

Trump is trying to strike what he believes is a “better deal” while also benefitting powerful American military interests. But the ongoing standoff is increasing global volatility, making war almost inevitable. It is also no secret that the US accounts for 34% of all global arms sales selling more than double the amount of weapons than Russia (the second largest exporter of arms). With such a lucrative industry in place and Trump’s business acumen, it stands to reason he would highly benefit by creating a situation that would escalate conflict till just below the threshold of war inspiring enough fear and tension for states to buy arms from the US. On the surface Trump appears to be making good on his promises: a tougher stance on Iran while also not committing any ground troops in foreign lands. He is well aware that the age of conventional warfare is over: the US has been striking back by employing sanctions, engaging in surveillance via drones and launching cyber-attacks. Continue reading

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Filed under Cyber Warfare, Discussion, Drones, Iran, Nuclear Energy, Politics, The Middle East, Trump, United States

‘Endgame in the Middle East’: A Talk by Ambassador Karamatullah Khan Ghori

Israel does not want to see Assad go because he never posed a threat to Israel. So the Americans are happy; and the crisis is not ending anytime soon says former Pakistan diplomat

The Syrian crisis is not going to end anytime soon. When it does end, it will not be to the liking of the West. This was said by former ambassador Karamatullah Khan Ghori in his lecture on ‘Endgame in the Middle East’ organised at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) on Tuesday. Mr Ghori said to understand the subject, one needed to look at the genesis of the game. It was in 1908 when oil was discovered in the Middle East for the first time at a place called Masjid-i-Suleiman in Iran. Five years later, it was discovered in Iraq, a year later in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia was the last country tapped by the oil explorers. Notably, the discovery of oil preceded the First World War. It also coincided with Western infatuation with Israel. Although the so-called Balfour Declaration was announced in 1917, the spadework for a Jewish homeland had started in the last decade of the 19th century when the Zionist International was founded in Switzerland. The two developments almost happened simultaneously.

For the last one hundred years, this has been the prime goal and two-edged weapon of the West against the Arab world: one, oil continues to be supplied to Western economies; two, Israel is not threatened. Mr Ghori said in 1973 the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) imposed its first oil embargo against the West, and its architect was Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal. That embargo gave birth to what is now known as the Kissinger doctrine. Henry Kissinger was the secretary of state in 1973. He said, “We cannot allow this blackmail of our economies to go unchallenged. If it is allowed to go unchallenged, it will choke our economies. Therefore, we should be prepared to land our troops on the oil producing fields of Arabia.” Mr Ghori said colonialism relied upon creating local surrogates, and in the global context, regional surrogates. The US, after WWII, created regional surrogates in the Arab world and the Persian side of the Gulf. Continue reading

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Filed under Discussion, Iran, Islam, Israel, Karachi, Pakistan, Palestine, Politics, The Middle East, United States

‘The Arab World in Turmoil’: A Talk by Ambassador Karamatullah Ghori

We have no problem with Iran. Besides, we share a long border and are culturally more akin to Iran than to Saudi Arabia.

The standoff in Yemen between the Saudis and Iranians shows that a high death toll and human suffering alone will stop neither side from trying to build up its influence in the region. In Syria, after a relentless war which has left countless innocent people dead, Iran’s influence is in the ascendency along with its old ally Russia. The fall of Ghouta confirms this point. It demonstrates the impotence of the West as a player in the Middle East. After Saddam’s fall in 2003, Iran quickly developed its importance in Iraq. Iran was also quick to protect its neighbour when ISIS took over large parts of Iraq in 2014. Interestingly, John Bolton, who has been made Trump’s national security advisor after general McMaster was cashiered, wants to destroy the Iranian regime and advocates its replacement by Maryam Rajavi’s Mojahedin-e Khalq organisation, whose members had been proscribed as terrorists in many western countries. Mohammed bin Salman, who has recently been on a charm offensive and has been rubbing shoulders with Theresa May and schmoozing with president Trump making billion dollar deals, is now on a mission to win over support in Iraq.

The Saudi crown prince, who is on a quest to remake the Middle East, also says that Riyadh also has strategic interests with Tel Aviv despite the ongoing slaughter of the Palestinians by the Israeli military machine. Anyhow, the Wahabi Saudi regime is extending a hand of friendship to disillusioned Shias in Iraq who do not wish to align their interests with Tehran. For example, Muqtada al-Sadr, the stern leader of the Saraya al-Salam met Mohammed bin Salman in Najaf last year. Najaf is a natural place for the Saudi-Iranian rivalry to pan out further, of course Tehran has much more experience than Riyadh on the ground in Najaf and Southern Iraq. In these interesting times Pakistan’s former ambassador Karamatullah Ghori delivered lecture on The Arab World on Turmoil on 31 March, 2018 at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA). Continue reading

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Filed under Discussion, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Islam, Israel, Karachi, Pakistan, Pakistan Horizon, Palestine, Politics, The Arab Spring, The Middle East, Trump, United States

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

‘To describe the Rubaiyat’s quatrains as the epigrams of an epicurean is to misunderstand Khayyam’ explains Dr Reeza Hameed.

As rendered by Fitzgerald, the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam has remained an enduring favourite among poetry lovers all over the world. Khayyam is a poet for all seasons. Khayyam was undoubtedly one of the greatest mathematicians and astronomers to come out of the Islamic world of the middle ages. He was a contemporary of Ali ibn Sina, known to the West as Avicenna. Khayyam was a polymath in an era which produced polymaths by the dozens, many of whom are known to the West only by their Latinised names, but Khayyam’s name survives in the Arabic original. Khayyam had mastered many disciplines. In addition to mathematics and astronomy, he was fluent in philosophy, medicine, geography, physics, and music. Ibn Sina taught him philosophy for many years. He also learnt medicine and physics from that great man. Another contemporary was Al-Zamakshari, well-known for his commentary of the Quran. Since Khayyam was one of the greatest astronomers of the Middle Ages, in recognition of his contributions a crater on the Moon was named after him. 

In mathematics, he virtually invented the field of geometric algebra. His treatise on Algebra was used in Europe as a standard text even as late as the nineteenth century. He was not known for his poetry, until he was reborn as a poet in the second half of the nineteenth century in Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of his Rubaiyat, which catapulted him to poetic stardom. Had it not been for Fitzgerald, Khayyam’s fame might have rested on his contributions to astronomy, mathematics or the development of the Jalali calendar to replace the Julian calendar. He alludes to his involvement in the calendar in one of his verses.

 Ah, by my Computations, People say,
Reduce the Year to better reckoning?

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Filed under Discussion, Dr Reeza Hameed, Iran, Islam, The Middle East