The United States and Iran have been at loggerheads for many days. A bellicose exchange of words between the two countries has challenged regional and global peace alike. Particularly, the US hawks have continuously been threatening Iran and alleging her of violating the terms of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a landmark nuclear deal signed by P5+1 (Russia, China, France, the UK, the US plus Germany) and Iran in 2015 during the Obama administration. The US hawks have put inexorable pressure on Donald Trump, the incumbent US President, for ‘regime change’ in Iran through coercive measures. Nevertheless, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and many other countries have unequivocally applauded Iranian compliance with the agreement. Despite, unable to resist the hawks, Trump unilaterally withdrew from JCPOA last year and re-imposed economic sanctions on Iran. This clearly manifests the US warmongering attitude.

Realistically speaking, there are evidences that Iran was strictly abiding by the terms of agreement. She has substantially halted uranium enrichment and allowed IAEA monitors to inspect her nuclear sites. However, the United States has not only violated the agreement by unilaterally withdrawing, but also disobeyed international law. Because, the JCPOA was incorporated in a UN Security Council Resolution (UNSC Resolution 2231) and, therefore, compliance was binding upon all parties under the law. Therefore, the United States should be held responsible for aggression and violation of international law.

It is in this backdrop that last month oil tankers were attacked in the Persian Gulf. In their response, America and her clients in Middle East blamed Iran for the aggression. The United States increased her military presence in the region to pre-empt further Iranian threats and belligerent maneuvers. The KSA also threatened for a heavy blow in case of future Iranian attack. It is yet to be seen who the perpetrator of the attacks was. The Iranians have categorically denied all such claims and demanded a peaceful resolution of disputes. Although Iran responded in a calculated, measured and peaceful manner, she is committed to safeguard her national integrity and sovereignty at any cost. Her commitment for peace efforts can be gauged from the fact that it was after the continuous threats from the United States that Iran threatened to restart her nuclear programme in case the US impose further sanctions.

The US-Iranian strife has further escalated with the latest attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. The tankers included Norwegian-owned Front Altair and Japanese-owned Kokua Courageous. According to Japanese sources both of those tankers carried Japanese cargo. It is worth mentioning that these attacks were executed when the Japanese PM Shinzo Abe was on her visit to Iran for mediation between the US and Iran. World response was divided: the United States, the U.K and her regional allies accused Iran which outrightly rejected their claims; the UN secretary general Antonio Guterres condemned the attacks and asked for an international investigation; and, the Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the attacks ‘suspicious’ and orchestrated by a person or group trying to damage his country. However, the attacks seem to be a subversion activity with the objective to disrupt Japanese efforts for peaceful settlement of the US-Iranian standoff. The anti-Iran elements may have carried out those attacks for achieving a consensus for maximizing regional and international pressure on Iran. Since the attacks were against the Iranian interest at that specific time when the Japanese PM was meeting with the Iranian supreme leader, therefore, the attackers had an opportunity to spoil Iranian image and undermine her interests.

Although perpetrators of those attacks in the Gulf of Oman are yet to be determined, its repercussions are omnipresent; the US and Iran are at the brink of a disastrous catastrophe- a nuclear war. The consequences of such a disaster would not restrain to the Middle East only, but also engulf the neighbouring regions and the globe at large. Therefore, it is the responsibility of all regional and global stakeholders to endeavor for saving humanity from another cataclysmic event. Neither pacifying the Middle East is an easy target nor can peace be established for a long time, but escalations can be avoided and war threats be mitigated with sincere and dedicated efforts. Therefore, military means are no solution for such a scenario. The United States should stop her ‘pressure tactics’ and pressure maximizing strategy. Instead negotiations are the best possible alternative to military means; engagement not the containment should be the best strategy. For that, first of all, international nuclear deal known as JCPOA signed by P5+1 and Iran and adopted by United Nations Security Council Resolution must be revered and obeyed. Otherwise, all the countries would repose no confidence in international treaties and agreements. Ultimately, international law already with a fragile structure would be tattered.

Second, world powers, particularly Russia, China, France, the UK, and Germany- which are also parties to the agreement and some of these are to some extent supporting Iran - should exert maximum pressure on the US for compliance of the treaty. Otherwise, they should side with Iran and counter the US aggression or at least de-escalate the US-Iran tensions.

Now, the question is: what does the imbroglio imply for Pakistan being the immediate neighbor of Iran? First, Pakistan will be at great risk and, perhaps, the biggest and first victim if any untoward incident happens in her proximity. This may further deteriorate the dwindling economy and instability of the country. Given the precarious situation, how should Pakistan react? The answer is not so simple. The regional realignment of alliances has already put Pakistan is a situation where she is struggling for balancing her relations vis-à-vis great powers. Pak-US strained relationship has caused the stakeholders to re-evaluate foreign policy priorities. Russian resurgence in the region and Sino-US rivalry has also been posing severe challenges for Pakistan’s foreign policy preferences. Furthermore, Afghanistan turmoil and standstill US-Afghan talks are threatening further chaos in the neighboring country, which can further Pakistani woes. Then, on eastern front, Pak-India arch rivalry-particularly Indian aggressive and hegemonic designs to isolate and malign Pakistan- has been undermining prospects of regional peace and prosperity.

Given the economic, political and demographic challenges, first, Pakistan should endeavor to balance her foreign relations and avoid animosity of any of the great powers. For that, prioritizing her national interest Pakistan should continue to cooperate with the US in Afghanistan to establish peace in the neighboring country. Second, Pakistan should play a role of interlocutor to resolve the US-Iran discord. Although Pakistan may not be in a position to convince the Americans, yet it can persuade KSA and Iran for a peaceful settlement of their disputes. If KSA and Iran, even if partially, resolve their disputes and negotiate for peace in the region, the US influence can be curtailed in the region.

Third, if both of the aforementioned options do not benefit and it becomes mandatory for Pakistan to join one of the two confronting camps, Pakistan should join Russia-Iran-China troika. Because, first, though US is still significantly powerful, protectionist policies of the Trump administration are taking the country towards isolationism and weakening her international stature. On the other hand, Russian resurgence has paid dividends for increasing her influence on global strategic chess-board. Second, Pakistan’s all weather friend and strategic ally China sides with Russia and Iran. Contrarily, US is supporting Indian hegemonic designs in South Asia, and the Indo-US nexus is threatening Pak-China cordiality. So, it is better to join our close ally’s club than to partner with an old distrusted friend and our enemy’s patron. Therefore, Pakistan should join the Russia-Iran-China camp to successfully pursue her national interest and achieve foreign policy objectives.