Pakistan’s geographical location has been of great importance since time immemorial. Even when it was known as the land of Sindh, it was culturally, socially and politically separate from Hind. With the advent of Islam in the Arabian desert, Muslims emerged as a new force and defeated both the superpowers of their time, Rome and Persia. When Muslims set foot in this region, the locals embraced the message of Islam. Sindh became known as Bab-ul-Islam (Fortress of Islam).
After the establishment of Pakistan, Muslim rule was restored in the region but the world was polarized between Communist Soviet Union and capitalist West led by the United States. The strategic importance of Pakistan increased in the ‘Great Game’. Let’s say that this region is located on the fault lines of world politics. It’s a battleground between regional and global powers and even minor tremors have a huge impact.
The Iranian election on June 18 has changed dynamics in the region. Iran has held presidential elections every four years since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the president is directly elected by the people. Although Iran’s electoral system is complex and largely controlled, a change of leadership is significant. Every candidate is approved by the Guardian Council and those opposed to the revolution cannot take part. Candidates are divided as moderates or reformists while others are conservative. There are two-term limits so Hassan Rouhani, known as a pragmatic reformist, couldn’t participate.
This time the election was predictable and all moderates eventually backed out, handing the win to conservative judge Ibrahim Raisi.
In the previous 2017 elections, Raisi was placed second after Rouhani, who secured nearly 23 million votes. Conservative Raisi garnered 18.8 million while the turnout was 72%, as a large number of people came voted to give the reformist a convincing victory. The 2021 elections were different due to the absence of moderate candidates and only 28 out of 59 million voters exercised their right to vote. The turnout was 48.84%. Raisi received just two million more votes than in 2017. This is disappointing in the history of the Iranian elections. The low turnout shows frustration with the country’s system and direction.
Raisi’s victory will affect Iran, Pakistan and beyond due to his close ties to extremist Shia outfits. In 2019, he visited Lebanon and accompanied Hezbollah commanders on the frontlines near the Israeli border. The United States has banned him from executing thousands of anti-revolutionary political prisoners in 1988 as a judge and public prosecutor. Iran is already facing tough economic sanctions after former US President Donald Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal. Joe Biden eased nuclear policy to rejoin the agreement but Raisi’s win would be a huge setback.
Iran is embroiled in a proxy-way in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. It is already reeling from a severe economic crisis and US sanctions have exacerbated the problem. Any hope that the sanctions will be lifted has been dashed by Raisi’s win. The reformist Rouhani and his foreign minister Jawad Zarif, who had kept a reasonable distance after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Iran will now play a more active role in Afghanistan which will even have severe repercussions even for Pakistan.
Raisi is a popular figure in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards which is highly influential in internal and external policies. It operates numerous banks, commercial establishments, construction companies, and media channels to meet its expenses and promote activities at home and abroad. To the outside world, it is known as a state within a state.
In the run-up to the 2021 presidential election, the Guards launched a full-scale social media campaign against the reformists and played a key role in ensuring Raisi’s win. They also issued controversial material regarding Pakistan, portraying it as a terrorist state and propagating cross-border attacks. This is a high possibility that after Raisi’s win, there will be an increase in the smear campaign against Pakistan and patronage of extremist Shia groups. Pakistan needs to keep a close watch on this changing situation and adopt a cautious policy. We hope that the rhetoric will not turn into action and Ibrahim Raisi will ease his behaviour after being elected head of state.