Will Pakistan’s third attempt to mediate between Iran and SA be successful?

October 20, 2019

ISLAMABAD: As Prime Minister Imran Khan has formally initiated efforts to broker patch-up between Iran and Saudi Arab, this is fourth attempt by any Pakistani leader to mediate between two Islamic...

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ISLAMABAD: As Prime Minister Imran Khan has formally initiated efforts to broker patch-up between Iran and Saudi Arab, this is fourth attempt by any Pakistani leader to mediate between two Islamic countries.

A couple of such efforts were made in past by former prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif and one by the former military dictator Gen (R) Pervez Musharraf.

Although Gen Ziaul Haq also had one mediation plan on his credit, it was during Iran-Iraq war and the efforts were aimed to end it. In September 1980, he went to Tehran on an “Islamic peace mission” to end the war, however, efforts failed to make any headway as neither side was ready to submit. Iran thought Iraq was aggressor and the vice versa. This war continued for eight years ending on August 20, 1988, three days after the death of Zia in a plane crash.

Regarding Iran-Saudi Arab patch, the first such effort was made in March 1997 when Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) conference organised in Islamabad. Mian Nawaz Sharif was the prime minister. A meeting between Iranian president Hashmi Rafsanjani and Saudi crown prince Abdullah was arranged on the sidelines of this conference. Comparing with efforts made to-date, the first one taking place in 1997 was the most consequential as Rafsanjani visited Saudi Arab 11 months later. This was the first-ever visit by a top Iranian leader to Saudi Arab since Iranian revolution of 1979. It was 10-day long.

Second attempt was made by Gen (R) Pervez Musharraf in February 2007 when he went to Tehran in a bid to bridge differences between the two Islamic countries, however, efforts didn’t yield result. He was engulfed in a serious crisis back at home when filed reference against Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry triggering country-wide protests. Musharraf tried to calm down domestic situation through yet another international engagement. In April that year, he offered to mediate between Israel and Palestine. Israeli politely turned down the offer saying there was “already positive ongoing dialogue between the Israel and Palestine.”

Third initiative to resolve Iran-Saudi Arabia differences was taken by Mian Nawaz Sharif in 2016 when he first visited Saudi Arabia and then Iran in the company of Gen Raheel Sharif. Initial response was very good. A press release issued then said that the leadership of both countries had responded positively to this gesture. Nawaz Sharif said he considered this a sacred mission to help ending the differences between the two and that he was proud to play the role of a mediator. Pakistan then decided to appoint a focal person for the purpose and that Iran and Saudi Arabia would also be requested to do the same. From then onward, no development was reported on this front until this recent initiative.

Analysts view the latest attempt different from the past in a sense that it has been started on the request of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, though it remains unclear who first said: either US President Donald Trump or Mohammad bin Salman. Speaking to media in New York during United Nations General Assembly session, both of them had asked him for mediation.

“Trump asked me if we could de-escalate the situation and may be come up with another deal. I immediately spoke to President Rouhani yesterday after the meeting with President Trump. I can’t say right now more than this but this is what we are trying and mediating,” Imran told media persons. Crown Prince “also asked me to talk to the Iranian president,” he said on September 25. However, two days later, Trump told AFP that it was Imran Khan who had approached him to suggest this, not him. “He actually asked me. He thought it would be a good idea to meet,” Trump reportedly said.

On Sunday last, during his visit to Tehran, Imran Khan said: “This visit to Iran and the visit that I’ll undertake to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday is a Pakistan-led initiative.

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