A New Asian Troika: Prospects and Opportunities


It was as late as this month that the China, Pakistan and Iran held their first ever trilateral meeting on counter-terrorism in Beijing. According to the statement issued subsequent to the meeting by Foreign Ministry, delegations from the three countries held “detailed and in-depth discussions on the regional security situation, particularly the threat of terrorism faced by the region”.

Based on the outcome of these consultations, they decided to institutionalize the trilateral consultations on counter-terrorism and security for which further details would be worked out, the statement added.

The prospects for regional peace and security offered by this development are both broader and promising in the long run. According to the report by Pakistan Institute of Parliamentary Services (PIPS), the previous year has seen a 27% increase in terrorism in Pakistan with January 2022 proving to be the deadliest month seeing 134% spike in terrorism cases and killing 134.

This followed unfortunate revelations made by DG ISPR (Pakistan) Major General Ahmed Shareef Chaudhry, that the ongoing year saw 436 terrorist incidents, taking lives of 293 people while 137 security personnel embraced martyrdom in the fight against attaining absolute peace and security for the state.

Despite Pakistan’s economic woes, some 8, 269 Intelligence-based Operations (IBOs) were already conducted in the on-going year with the effect that Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the foremost terrorist group operational in Pakistan is seeking ceasefire talks with the government of Pakistan and a major blow is being given to the Baloch insurgency with the leader of Baloch National Army (BNA) Gulzar Imaam-BNA being one of the three foremost influential violent insurgent groups operating in Balochistan- captured and later expressing remorse over taking up arms and proclaiming that the fight for Balochistan’s rights was only possible in a constitutional and political manner.

While Pakistan tends to grasp every opportunity to sustain its hardly-earned peace, China and Iran are marred in their own societal chaos when it comes to terrorism and extremism revolving around sub-national sentiments in their states.

It was as late as September last year that Iran directed a barrage of missiles and drones towards Iraq’s Kurdistan region blaming the latter for “attacking and infiltrating Iran from the northwest of the country to sow insecurity and riots and spread unrest.” Violent protests erupted in Iran in the run up to the death of Kurdish-Mahsa Amini who died while in the custody of the ISLAMIC Revolutionary Guard Corps. Such a cross-border infiltration comes with the horrendous risk of broader-social disruption in Iran as Kurdistan region is divide among the four countries of Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq and there is an underlying sentiment for Greater Kurdistan or a separate unified homeland for Kurdish people prevalent in all these countries to varying degrees.

Similarly, China seems to be embroiled in intense mental fatigue when it comes to International Pressure it is facing on the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang and for its detention camps and sterilization campaigns that various international human rights organizations see to be equivalent to committing war crimes or genocide. Xinjiang has seen violent struggle in the past in the achievement of their desires separate homeland referred to as East Turkestan Islamic Movement. Uighurs consider themselves to be ideologically and culturally distinct from the rest of China.

In the wake of such events, such a realization towards working together in counter-terrorism or extremism domains is a positive trajectory as terrorism today is a transnational phenomenon and collaborative efforts can offer broader prospects in breaking the intensity of broader interlinkages that various terrorist or extremist groups forge together in terms of economic gains, recruitment, resource mobilization etc.

In April, four soldiers embraced martyrdom after a group of terrorists operating from the Iranian side attacked a routine border patrol operating along the Pakistan-Iran border in the Jalgai Sector of Kech district. The initiative towards countering terrorism collectively offers an opportunity to break cross-border terrorism linkages.

A Way Forward

Based on the outcome of these consultations, the three states decided to institutionalize the trilateral consultations on counter-terrorism and security for which further details would be worked out, statement from Pakistan’s Foreign Office added.

Security is taken today in very holistic terms. Its scope varies from military to economics to human, social and environmental dynamics.

The coming together of all these three states offer broader prospects in that case scenario as well. Due to the USA’s pressure and International sanctions on Iran, Pakistan has been unable to bring to completion an opportunistic Iran-Pakistan (IP) Gas Pipeline project that could bring to Pakistan about 40 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year. This is while the bilateral trade between USA and China has crossed more than $600 billion for two consecutive years now. Pakistan should make its geo-political and geo-strategic choices prudently. There is an ever-growing need in the country to over-come its ad-hocism in policy making and get over any sort of block-politics or side choosing to avert short and long-term geo-political or strategic losses.

Not only Pakistan should mark a clear distinction in dealing with Baloch insurgency (with economic prospects being offered to the beleaguered populace) and TTP’s terrorism as no peace has ever been attained by going with negotiation sin the group. Hence it is pertinent to deal with the group iron-handedly as already underway in the country.

Taken in the way of economic security that curbs terrorism and extremism most effectively, this troika is also an opportunity to link CPEC with the proposed 25-year strategic partnership between China and Iran. The partnership is considered to be worth $400 billion Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) that China tends to bring into Iran’s political, economic and military spheres.

It is pertinent to mention here that Iran is the third largest exporter of oil to China after Saudi Arabia and Russia. While exact estimates are not known, it was speculated that some 34 million barrels of Iranian oil was stockpiled in the strait of Hormuz in the wake of huge oil sale discounts offered by Russia subsequent to European sanctions on the former.

To camouflage transactions with a globally sanctioned Iran and also to make the most out of the oil purchase, China uses ostensible uses other destinations as Malaysia as point of origin and reportedly makes use of barter trading system in which oil is exchanged for Chinese products including medicine, light machinery and food items.

In the May meeting between Commerce Minister of Pakistan Naveed Qamar and visiting Chairman of the Commission of National Security and Foreign Policy of the Majlis of the Islamic Republic of Iran Vahid Jalalzadeh, who is leading a high-level delegation to Pakistan to discuss various measures to promote bilateral economic relations between the two states, the former also emphasized the importance of opening new border markets and implementing a barter trade system to facilitate greater commercial exchange. Even with the non-availability of banking channels, the bilateral trade between the two states reached $2 billion, as reported by Mr. Naveed Qamar.

In times when USA and Iran are trying to make amends-if not reconcile-their bilateral hostility, such a troika, if implemented and institutionalized can be a way forward and offer prospects for the ‘Asia-centric’ and Asia-focused peace, security and development overtures.

Sana Hamid
Sana Hamid
Author is an IR scholar having experience working with two top notch think tanks, namely IPRI and SDPI. She has numerous articles in her credits. She tweets @sana_hamid_here


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