Pakistan and Gulf politics

  • Need to be seen as non-partisan

The Crown prince of Abu Dhabi is to visit Pakistan on Sunday while Imran Khan has already traveled to Saudi Arabia and UAE twice. Khan’s visit to Qatar scheduled for December was delayed and is likely to take place this month. Keeping in view the divisions in the Gulf there is a need on the part of the government to conduct diplomacy in the region with extra care. The Gulf first got divided over Iran when three countries i.e., Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE developed adversarial relation with it while Kuwait and Oman remained neutral. In 2017 a dispute broke out between Qatar on the one hand and the same three Gulf countries on the other. What the PTI government needs to understand is that Pakistan has to pursue a policy of friendship with all instead of getting embroiled in their regional disputes.

While Pakistan has got the much needed financial support from Saudi Arabia and UAE, its trade with Qatar is also on a growth trajectory particularly after Qatar’s blockade. In the fiscal year 2017-18, Pakistan’s exports to the country jumped 75 percent. Pakistan is also hoping to get investments from Qatar. Since the sanctions imposed by Trump, Iran is facing hard times. It has however provided electricity to nearby districts in Balochistan which are currently out of the reach of the national power grid. Developing good relations with Iran is also needed because the two countries not only share religious, cultural and historical bonds but they also share a 999km long border between them which is in their interest to keep peaceful.

Iranian foreign minister was the first major dignitary to visit Pakistan to meet the new prime minister. A little later the Qatari FM also visited Pakistan. Any perception that the two countries are being cold shouldered will harm Pakistan’s posture of neutrality in Gulf affairs. There is a need on the part of Imran Khan to visit Iran and Qatar at the earliest. If Pakistan cannot play the role of an honest broker in the Gulf, it should at least be seen as non-partisan.