Analysis: Iran comes to South Asia? by Khaled Ahmed The trilateral summit in Islamabad was not just about terrorism. Everyone is looking at the strategic implications of the three presidents meeting to rethink the region's economic map What if non-Semitic Iran were to become a part of South Asia and was consequently persuaded to moderate its hostile involvement in the Semitic Middle East on behalf of the people of Shia faith? After all, Afghanistan was Central Asia before it became the 8th South Asian state as member of SAARC. But Iran will not only be transformed in the process, it will transform an energy-starved South Asia itself as Afghanistan never could. The Iran-Afghanistan-Pakistan two-day summit on counter-terrorism in Islamabad on 16 February 2012 was not just about terrorism. It concentrated everybody's mind on the strategic implications of the three presidents meeting to rethink the economic map of the region. America is about to leave Afghanistan, abandoning two allies uncertain about their future, while threatening the third country with a possible attack against its nuclear installations. President Asif Ali Zardari told his Iranian counterpart during the summit that Pakistan would not provide the United States with airbases to launch an attack on Iran and that it would stand with Iran against any aggression by the US or Israel. He assured the visiting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Pakistan would not provide any form of assistance to the US forces to attack Iran. President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, ever the pragmatist in discussions, wanted Pakistan to make up with America and reopen the Nato supply routes and make more money out of them. He wanted Pakistan to help him tackle the Taliban in a separate dialogue which leaves the US out. President Ahmadinejad wanted Iran to break out of its heroic isolation through an economic opening with Pakistan and India - or China. President Asif Ali Zardari wanted to avert economic collapse in Pakistan by leaning on Iran's gas pipeline and electricity supply into Balochistan. Both Iran and Pakistan thought their nuclear programmes under threat. Counter-terrorism may be an easy subject if the three get together strategically. Iran has communicated much better with the Karzai government than with the Taliban who still kill Shias in Balochistan and Parachinar where the local Turis think their latest massacre was the Taliban's reaction to the visit of the Iranian president. Iran's connection with the Northern Alliance is firm and if Pakistan wants to be on the same page, it will have to diversify its pro-Pakhtun Afghan policy a little. The two have behaved civilly over Baloch terrorism into Iran and may agree on the protection of the Hazara community in Quetta which the authorities there have steadily ignored. Above all, Pakistan will have to balance its relations between its 'affection' for the Gulf Arabs and Tehran. Pakistan's pragmatism will be understood by the world on the subject of the pipeline. It might be attracted even more to reliance on Iran because of the latter's offer of deferred payment on the gas it will export. (The Arabs have not responded to Pakistan's distress call in regard to oil.) After that Pakistan and Iran will have to plan how they can circumvent the sanctions placed on Iran's State Bank to enable Pakistan to pay for the gas which is three times more expensive than the domestic gas it currently consumes. President Ahmadinejad is keen to break the isolation he has embraced in the past, if Pakistan and India can help. This brings us to the fourth party that is not there at the summit: India. New Delhi is a close ally of both Iran and Afghanistan and boasts a growth rate that makes it an important engine for economic revival in the region. India buys Iranian oil together with China and will not listen to the US despite the pledges made by President Bush to US Congress under the Hyde Act allowing India-US nuclear deal. Iran is also the alternative trade route between India and Afghanistan if Pakistan will not play ball. Pakistan must see the China factor here too and resist the Defence of Pakistan Council and its nonstate actors threatening to attack if Pakistan allows free trade with India. There will be three US allies in this seemingly rebellious quadrilateral arrangement in the region: India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. All three have national interests that don't gibe with the current US policy of isolating and punishing Iran for its ambition to go nuclear. In the background lurk Russia and China, both economically aligned with Europe and the US, but unwilling to let Iran be attacked. Had India been there in Islamabad, the four could swing the regional strategic balance in favour of peace and increased economic activity. Pakistan is the only state out of the three not closely economically aligned with India, but that can change. One hopes that a 'consensus of four' in favour of Iran can persuade Iran to adopt a path more in line with Tehran's own assertion that Islam forbids the development of a nuclear weapon. President Ahmadinejad said in Islamabad: 'Nuclear bombs should be deleted from the world as they are not a capability to be used'. The trilateral summit had two strong pro-India presidents dialoguing with a covertly pro-India President Zardari saddled with an Afghan policy that no one in the region agrees with. The summit could have been quadrilateral with a lot of consequent global clout.