Our posture in a Saudi-Iran conflict

  • We must be ready to use our good offices for reconciliation

Hareem Aqdas

The Middle East became quite tense when Saudi Arabia reported that it had intercepted a rocket terminated by Yemen’s Houthi rebels at Riyadh. No casualties were reported. However, Saudi Arabia said the assault amounted to an act of war by Iran.

Saudi Arabia claims that Iran is providing the Houthi warriors with weapons. The US envoy to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, supported the claim in a news conference last week. Tehran denies the allegations. But Iran has more than once upbraided a Saudi-led military fusion that has carried out airstrikes and other attacks in Yemen for more than three years since a Saudi-allied government was toppled.

The best posture Pakistan can take during a highly definitive and sensitive moment as of the current conflict in the Middle East, is that great precision and care is to be taken towards giving any statement or taking any action in either support or against any of the pair of Iran and Saudi Arabia

Even though the rising tensions between the two Middle East rivals have been further enhanced, this recent rocket attack likely won’t result in any kind of coordinated strife between the Middle East’s two territorial powers. But it, undoubtedly will be a determining factor of the course of foreign policy postures globally, forcing states connected diplomatically to both states to act prudently in their decisions regarding the two conflicting actors involved.

This conflict may not lead to war in a practical way but may become an instrument towards a diplomatic strive– especially to countries having their stake in both the actors– like Pakistan.

Pakistan has striven to establish cordial relations with both its fellow Muslim countries that have been at odds with each other due to numerous reasons, accounting for sectarian divide, oil politics and regional hegemony.

It is indeed high time for the leadership of Pakistan to make clear a foreign policy posture for the issue indulging the two states, especially now that there is an OIC Summit being held. If analyzed, the posture that would fit Pakistan the best would be the posture of neutrality, of non-intervention militarily or diplomatically to support openly one side, and keeping its good offices open for a friendly negotiation between both the actors.

If considered rationally, the historical context of behaviors of both Iran and Saudi Arabia towards Pakistan, it is very clear that the Saudi posture has, indeed been much more cordial than Iran’s.

Iran has always had a complex love-hate attitude towards Pakistan, and while Iran was the first country to recognize Pakistan  after Independence, it yet never outrightly supported Pakistan in any international front, rather giving preference to India, a conventional opponent of Pakistan, instead. Though it remains a fact that during the time of crisis, such as the previous month where Iran was faced by a devastating flood, it could not import support or aid for the affected due to heavy US-imposed sanctions, Pakistan was in the forefront to assist Iran with aid in her time of need, even though Pakistan’s own economic situation has been pathetic. Yet Iran has had its differences with Pakistan.

On the other hand, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have had comparatively better relations, the most recent example being the visit of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman to Pakistan, and his coming with a package of investment earlier this year in February. Iran had its reservations with this deal as well and openly confronted Pakistan for its ties with Saudi Arabia.

Yet Pakistan simply cannot openly support one side against the other, because of multiple reasons. Firstly, Pakistan’s own minority Shia population and their religious affiliations with Iran prohibits Pakistan from acting against Iran, as it surely may lead to unrest coming from the minority group within Pakistan. It may result in a sectarian instability within Pakistan itself.

Secondly, Pakistan already is imposed with two neighbors that have a hostile image of Pakistan, making it sandwiched in a complex security dilemma from both its east and west, of India and Afghanistan respectively. In this scenario, Pakistan simply cannot afford producing another hostile neighbor towards its South-Western border.

Thirdly, the posture of foreign policy of Pakistan towards Muslim countries, since its inception, translates towards establishing cordial relations with all Muslim countries, independent of their sectarian outfits. Differentiation at this point might bring instability within the policymakers of Pakistan in itself, who have followed this policy so far, where foreign policy is a matter that remains significantly constant, and major changes result in nothing but instability. Foreign policy changes are to be introduced through a steady trajectory followed over time rather than impulsively, and are to be thought through by Pakistan in the current context. It would only be self-destructive if a judicious decision was not taken.

Therefore, the best posture Pakistan can take during a highly definitive and sensitive moment as of the current conflict in the Middle East, is that great precision and care is to be taken towards giving any statement or taking any action in either support or against any of the pair of Iran and Saudi Arabia. It is rather much more practical to opt for a policy of neutrality, have good wishes for both the fellow Muslim countries and use the good offices of Pakistan towards both actors for reconciliation.