Iran and Saudi Arabia
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan recently embarked on a visit to Saudi Arabia as part of Islamabad’s efforts to defuse tensions between Tehran and Riyadh. An attack on Saudi Arabia that triggered the biggest jump in oil prices in almost 30 years was carried out with Iranian weapons. Tensions have been high between Iran and Saudi Arabia since the September 14 attacks that caused fires and damage to an oil processing facility and a production facility and the US and Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for it.
The Iran-aligned Houthi group that controls Yemen’s capital claimed responsibility for the attack, which knocked out more than half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production and damaged the world’s biggest crude processing plant. In their support even the US President Donald Trump said Washington was “locked and loaded” to hit back. In the light of these events, there could be high chances of the two nations going to war, which will not prove beneficial for the entire Middle East.
Nonetheless, Islamabad is stepping up efforts to defuse tensions between the Gulf neighbors as it fears that a possible US-backed war with Iran would spill over into Pakistan, unleashing sectarian violence between the country’s majority Sunni and minority Shiite populations and devastating its already frail economy due to a potential oil crisis.
For years, ties between Iran and Pakistan have remained tense due to a deep mutual mistrust. Pakistan has generally tried to maintain close ties with both Saudi Arabia and Iran — bitter regional foes — but has drifted away from Tehran in the past few years.
Both Islamabad and Tehran accuse each other of backing separatist groups, which are active in Pakistan’s and Iran’s Baluchistan provinces and seek independence from both countries.
Shiite-majority Iran is wary of Islamabad’s alleged support for various Sunni militant groups, which have been involved in launching attacks in Iran’s eastern areas, and massacring Shiite citizens inside Pakistan. The sectarian strife in Pakistan has been ongoing for some time now, with militant Islamist groups unleashing terror on the minority Shiite groups in many parts of the country.
Solidly allied with Riyadh
Iran is also angered by Pakistan’s role in the Saudi-led military alliance that is operating against Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen. Pakistan’s strong ties with Saudi Arabia marked by mutual trust, understanding, close cooperation and an abiding tradition of supporting each other is a definite eye sore to Iran. It is obvious that the Pakistani-Iranian ties have not been cordial for quite some time. However, if the Pakistani government gives more importance to Saudi Arabia in the Yemen conflict, the relations will likely get acrimonious.
Tehran is aware of Islamabad’s cooperation with Riyadh. At the same time, it is aware of the concerns and limitations of its ties with Pakistan and wants to maintain “normal” relations with the neighboring country. Islamabad’s over-enthusiasm to please Riyadh could further deteriorate its relations with Tehran. Pakistan’s support for Saudi Arabia has increased the Sunni-Shiite rift in the South Asian country. They also say that Sunni militant groups feel further emboldened by the fact that Raheel Sharif, Pakistan’s ex-army chief, now heads the Saudi-led military alliance. Since Pakistan is already part of the Saudi security alliance and has not done enough to allay Iran’s concerns about its alleged role in backing anti-Iran militants on its soil, Khan’s diplomatic efforts in Tehran are unlikely to yield results.
After years of growing hostility and competition for influence between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Pakistan has suddenly decided to take steps towards facilitating talks to try and reduce the tensions that have brought the Middle East to the brink of war. Strange to see a country that is torn between failed attempts to initiate talks with its neighbor and facing global isolation, should be so concerned about mediating talks between other nations. It seems as though this is the Pakistan government’s last attempt at trying to please US. With no support from its dear friend China, and no funding from US, Pakistan finds itself stranded in the game of world politics. Islamabad thinks that if it could help to mediate talks between the two countries, it can get into the good books of the world leaders such as the US. And hence it may be the last resort that Pakistan could think of to gain some stand for itself. Pakistan’s new political game is to gain international recognition by acting as a messenger of “peace and harmony”, where as the whole world knows it to be the father of terrorism. On one hand Pakistan wants to show concerns for world peace, and on the other, it harbors all the biggest master minds of the world of terrorism. It is not surprising that Pakistan wants to win back the confidence of the powerful nations, but what is surprising is that it does so under the garb of “peace talks”, the very concept of which is not understood by them. It is high time that Pakistan should realize that it is fighting a lost battle and lowering its own position on a global platform.
17 Oct 2019/Thursday Written by: Saima Ebrahim