Director of the Indo-Pacific Security Programme Lisa Curtis at CNAS has warned that heightened tensions between nuclear-armed neighbours Pakistan and Iran have raised concerns in the United States, with fears of the situation spiralling out of control.
In an interview with VOA Deewa, Curtis, a seasoned foreign policy and national security expert, highlighted the motive behind Iran’s recent incursion into Pakistan, linking the move to a retaliatory response following the double suicide bombing on January 3, an attack claimed by ISIS.
“Heightened tensions between nuclear power Pakistan and Iran, yet developing nuclear program, prompts United States’ apprehensions. It doesn’t want to see the situation out of control” she said.
Lisa Curtis is a senior fellow and director of the Indo-Pacific Security Program at CNAS. She is a foreign policy and national security expert with over 20 years of service in the US government, including at the National Security Council (NSC), CIA, State Department, and Capitol Hill.
“So, I think Iran needed to show that it will strike back when attacked and Pakistan, in some ways, is viewed as an easier target, allowing Iran to show its people a retaliatory response to the terrorist attack without provoking Israel or the US,” the senior fellow Indo-Pacific security program said.
“Pak-India tension is always high, there is also a tension between Pakistan and Taliban because they are avoiding cracking down Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) terrorist.” She warned of escalating chaos in a volatile region, and that is the main concern of the US.
She stated that Pakistan and Iran must alleviate tensions, highlighting their apparent progress in that direction. Pakistan has been stressing on brotherly relations, and Iran has been distinguishing between Pakistani people and officials from terrorists.
She believed these actions indicate their collaborative efforts to de-escalate the current tense situation. In response to a question about the timing chosen by Iran for intrusion in Pakistan, Lisa stated that it was intended to send an international signal. According to her, Iran aimed to showcase strength and resilience, reassuring the world that it remains formidable and ready to confront any aggression.
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“Despite the recent terrorist attack, Iran sought to project strength, and unfortunately Pakistan happened to be one of the targets,” she added.
The director of the Indo-Pacific Security Program acknowledged the gestures of de-escalation by Pakistan and Iran, noting that the region is presently not at immediate risk of further escalation. Nevertheless, she expressed apprehension regarding potential risks in the future.
“Baloch separatists in Iran that have been attacked could retaliate inside Pakistan and so what will happen then? Pakistan suspecting Indian involvement with Baloch separatists, may feel the need to send signals to India” Lisa raised crucial questions.
Contrary to prevailing views, Lisa underscored the current problems being faced by Pakistan never allows it to entangle in any regional conflict. The senior expert also highlighted other key issues confronting Pakistan including economic downturn, dependence on an IMF package, terrorist attacks, and the upcoming general elections which come against the backdrop of a diminished reputation for the establishment, given its perceived actions against the most popular political party, Pakistan Tehreek-Insaf (PTI), and the incarceration of its founding chairman Imran Khan.
Responding to a question regarding the future of Baloch terrorists, she underscored the counterproductive nature of resorting to terrorism. She emphasised that engaging in terrorist activities will worsen the lives of Baloch individuals on either side.
“When it becomes violent insurgencies, this is not going to help them any way, shape or form to gain any additional rights or economic benefits.” Discussing China’s role in the current situation, the senior expert observed that Chinese officials might believe they should be able to influence the situation. She asserted that when it comes down to it, they truly don’t have the ability to influence regional developments as much as they might hope.
“China only has so much influence and power in this kind of volatile situation, it enjoys strong and traditionally close relations with Pakistan, as well as endeavours to maintain positive ties with Iran, but its influence has limits” she asserted.
She emphasised that even with the strength of the China-Pakistan relationship, it’s crucial to recognize the limitations of Chinese mediation. In her view, the effectiveness of Chinese involvement may not meet the expectations, particularly in complex and unstable situations.
Sharing her observation regarding upcoming polls in Pakistan, she noted that there was malaise about the political situation and the elections and not much enthusiasm for the polls. “There is a perception among the people of Pakistan establishment [seen as the centre of power] has picked the party of choice and the popular one PTI doesn’t stand much of a chance, subsequently unfortunately there is lack of faith in country’s democratic process” Lisa raised concern.
She highlighted the turndown economic situation of Pakistan and high inflation which makes thing more difficult. She believes there is general kind of malaise in country. Regarding the security she pointed out that TTP terrorists are also become headache for Pakistan’s security institutions.
“There is a deep frustration among the Pakistan security establishment about their lack of ability to influence the Taliban to crack down on TTP terrorists on its territory,” she claimed. The director of the Indo-Pacific Security Program believes that the independent stance adopted by the Taliban, where they do not feel the need to answer to Pakistan or fulfil Pakistan’s requests, is a new and surprising development for the Pakistani establishment.
“A new situation is emerging in the region, and Pakistan is navigating its stance in light of a newly confident Taliban that now has options beyond the Pakistan military establishment,” she added.
The senior security expert is dissatisfied with the security situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Balochistan, attributing one of the reasons to the rise of the Taliban.
She further pointed out the shared ideological attraction between the Taliban and various other terrorist groups, highlighting that this alignment in ideological principles allows these groups to operate more freely in Afghanistan as the Taliban’s control provides them with a relatively secure environment.
“The lack of pressure on terrorist groups, owing to the Taliban’s control in Afghanistan is having a counterproductive effect, so that is backfiring into Pakistan and there is more insecurity there’s more Taliban type of influence happening in the region and so it is impacting the elections, economy and women and girls,” Lisa Curtis raised concern.
She added that the oppression of women and girls under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan is indeed having a profound effect within Pakistan. Women and girls in Pakistan are also suffering due to this regressive fundamentalist ideology that the Taliban is introducing to the region.
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