Center for Strategic Decision Research

Paris '07 Workshop

The New and Expanding Security Challenges in the Middle East and South Asia

Major General Maohai Zhan

Ambassador Munir Akram
Ambassador of Pakistan to the United Nations

Pakistan's Ambassador to the UN, Munir Akram addresses the new security challenges in the Middle East and South Asia.

"...all seven major flashpoints in the Middle East—Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan—are linked.
They are linked first by the involvement...of the principal powers, the United States and the other major powers.
Second, they are linked by the fact that each contains...asymmetric warfare and terrorism.
Third, they are linked because the strategic over the oil resources in the region.
Last,...they are linked because of the... impact Iran has on each crisis."

I would like to dwell on the new and expanding security challenges that we see in my part of the world, the Middle East and south Asia, in which NATO is now very deeply involved.


 The first challenge is the spread of asymmetric warfare, which is not a traditional problem that we have dealt with in the past. Asymmetric warfare is mainly local, but it also has a regional and even a global context in the form of Al Qaeda and other global terrorist organizations.

The second challenge we face is the use of conventional force brought to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon by Israel. This has not been successful so far, but the challenge is much more complex than it was in the past.

The third security challenge we face is that crises are now more complex, not only because there are local actors in the form of organizations and factions but because state interests are also involved, sometimes controlling and sometimes controlled by other factions.

The final challenge is that all seven major flashpoints in the Middle East—Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan—are linked. They are linked first by the involvement in and the interest of the principal powers, the United States and the other major powers. Second, they are linked by the fact that each contains a very large element of asymmetric warfare and terrorism. Third, they are linked because the strategic fight, not only the balance of power, is over the oil resources in the region. Last, and perhaps most critically, they are linked because of the pervasive influence and impact Iran has on each crisis. 


In Afghanistan, the center of gravity for a solution to the crisis may be a little bit lower compared to the other six crises, but in Palestine, Israel, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Iran the central problem relates to the eventual rules of engagement between the United States and its allies and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Although Afghanistan may be slightly different, this is the central conundrum of the security environment in the Middle East, with Iran and the United States the major players. Therefore future events will need to be assessed on the basis of how the relationship between the United States and Iran evolves. 

No doubt you have all heard about the recent first talks that were held in Baghdad. Though apparently things have not gone so well since then, there are two dimensions we need to look at to determine which way things will go in the future.  The first is Iraq. The second is the nuclear issue between the U.S. plus five and Iran.

Issues for Iran

Regarding Iraq, I think the Iranians are probably sincere when they say they want a stable Iraq. I think it is in their interests to have a stable Iraq but a stable Iraq that is dominated by a Shia government. Regarding that point, U.S. policies in Iraq since the country’s intervention have converged with the interests of Iran because with the elections insisted upon by the U.S., it was inevitable that the government would be dominated by the Shia. Perhaps this result was foreseen in Washington, one does not know, but so far U.S. policies have converged with Iranian interests regarding the Iraqi government.

However, while Iran requires that a Shia government assume power in Baghdad, it also requires that the United States and its allies leave Iraq, and that is where a major divergence arises. Iran, together with some of its allies, perhaps Syria, is trying to bring about conditions that will prevent the United States from staying in Iraq, as the U.S. obviously wishes to do. Those conditions are rapidly being created on the ground. The sectarian violence may have been started by the Sunni—Al Zarqawi and his gang—and it may have been fueled by some of the Sunni insurgents, including the Baathists. Today, however, it is the Shia militia that is carrying out ethnic cleansing in many of the Sunni-majority areas in Iraq and creating new realities on the ground in Baghdad and elsewhere.

Issues for the United States

forces are also facing new forms of weapons that make for large numbers of casualties, which has been a phenomenon of the surge in troops. Security in parts of Baghdad and elsewhere may be better because of the surge, but the cost in terms of U.S. casualties has been higher—there is a direct correlation between increased numbers of casualties and the kind of weapons and tactics U.S. troops are facing.  The conditions on the ground for the U.S. are difficult. 

Politically, the Shia-dominated government is obviously reluctant to take the steps that are required for reconciliation with the Sunnis. The Oil Law, the Federation Law, and the other political steps that are required to bring in the Sunnis, bring in the ex-Baathists, and isolate Al Qaeda have not yet been taken in Iraq.

In Iran, many realize that the U.S. is facing a domestic situation in which public opinion is turning more and more toward American withdrawal from Iraq. The perception, perhaps in Teheran, is that if things continue in the direction they are going—the sectarian separation, the lack of consensus within Iraq, the drifting away of the Kurds, the problems between Kurdistan and Turkey, and the ground situation—the U.S. will eventually be obliged to agree to a full withdrawal, be it rapid or gradual. That could be in exchange for Iranian help, which would be provided in exchange for a deal on the nuclear issue and a security role for Iran in the Gulf. 

That deal is obviously possible. The main question is whether a deal could be worked out between the U.S. and Iran on the nuclear issue. There it seems that prospects are not very bright. The U.S. has set down a benchmark, which is the cessation of nuclear enrichment by Iran. The Security Council has endorsed this benchmark twice, and it is now a legal requirement for Iran. But the Iranians have said loud and clear that they will not accept the cessation of enrichment as the basis for an understanding or a package deal that would involve Iraq and Gulf security.

On the other side, I have not heard people in Washington say that they would agree to anything less than full cessation of enrichment by Iran. Of course, if there is flexibility in the positions of the two sides a deal is possible. The definition of enrichment can be quite flexible and the definition of continuation of enrichment on Iranian soil can also be very flexible. So far, however, the U.S. seems determined to have complete, verified cessation and the Iranians are equally determined to continue with nuclear enrichment. According to Dr. El Baradeh, the Iranians already have 1,800 centrifuges running and could have about 3,000 within the next few months. Then, if they were able to throw the inspectors out, they could accelerate and meet the projections that in two or three years they could have enough material for a weapon, although they declare that they don’t want weapons.


These points, then, make up the central crisis in our region, though, of course, I have not dwelled on the other aspects of the crisis: the chaos between Palestine and Israel, the fragmentation in Lebanon, and the immediate challenge in Afghanistan, with which NATO is so deeply involved. Regarding Afghanistan, I will only say that what is required is nothing less than a new strategy, one that perhaps redefines success. The Afghanistan war started as a war of vengeance against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, but now it has mutated into a different kind of conflict and we need to see what are our objectives are there and how we can achieve them.

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