While tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran remain high following Saudi execution of a Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr and the burning of its embassy in Iran, Islamabad is feeling the heat from both inside the country and outside.
It is yet to come clear as to how it intends to deal with the situation. Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz rightly said in the National Assembly on Tuesday that “our foremost priority should be security of the country’s national interest.”
Yet he also said that a detailed policy statement will be made only after a meeting with the visiting Saudi foreign minister. Given the sensitivity of the issue and its ramification for this society, the Opposition wants the foreign ministry to stop dithering and come up with a clear stance.
Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khurshid Shah lamented in Wednesday’s session that all parliamentary opposition parties had asked the government to take them into confidence on its course of action regarding the Riyadh-Tehran feud but, adding a touch of sarcasm, he said the government was waiting for the Saudi foreign minister to make up its mind.
Despite the complexities involved it should not have taken the government so long to take a proper position. Indeed, Saudi Arabia is a trusted and obliging friend, but Iran is a neighbour and a friend too. Besides, getting involved in the dispute could easily inflame sectarian sentiments in this country.
Aziz himself noted, “there have been a number of such incidents over the past 40 years, as the two countries are involved in proxy tussles against each other.” Pakistan is already grappling with the effects of these proxy tussles manifested in relentless sectarian violence. Islamabad, therefore, must avoid taking sides and use its friendly relations with both Saudi Arabia and Iran to ratchet down tensions. The Western countries, however, have greater clout and interests as well to defuse the dispute.
The UN, the US, some European governments as well China have expressed concern over the developments calling for restraint. A Western sanctions-hit Russia and a beleaguered Iraq have, however, offered their good offices to mediate. At this point, Riyadh is not too happy with the US for leading the nuclear talks with Iran to a successful conclusion, paving the way for an imminent end to Iran’s international isolation.
Hence, it may be willing to accept Russian offer despite the latter’s participation in the Syrian war on Assad government’s side. The US too is expected to be engaged in quiet diplomacy to cool down tempers, especially at a time it along with Russia has been painstakingly preparing the ground, under the UN auspices, for the resolution of the Syrian civil war.
That requires the support of both the Gulf kingdoms and Iran which have been backing, respectively, the opposition fighters and the Assad government. Those influential outside players would be trying to calm down the situation. Pakistan may still remain under pressure from its Gulf friends to help with the region’s continuing power tussles. It needs to perform a skilful balancing act of staying neutral without damaging its friendly ties with Saudi Arabia or Iran.
Source: Business Recorder