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Opinion

June 10, 2017

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Coalition options for Pakistan

When the Arab coalition was in the making, I wrote in an article on these pages (‘Coalition politics’, January 19) which stated that “another  aspect of the coalition is that, though it is being formed by Saudi Arabia, its patron-in-chief is the US. The role of the US has been mentioned in some correspondence between Saudi Arabia and other partners, including Pakistan.”

However, our rulers continued to mislead the nation by assuring them that the US had nothing to do with the coalition. But everything became crystal clear when the foundation meeting of the coalition was named the Arab- Islamic-American Summit.

The nation was also told that Iran would not be on the agenda of the coalition. But the Riyadh Declaration condemned the Iranian’s regime alleged hostile position and vowed to confront Iran. It also resolved to create 34,000 reserve troops to fight against terrorists in Syria and Iraq. So, unlike our rulers’ claims, the conference revealed that the coalition is being led by the US and its focus is not only on Isis and Al-Qaeda but Iran as well. The question is: what should Pakistan do?

Before addressing this important question, I would like to acknowledge my mistake regarding the role of Raheel Sharif in the coalition. Government propaganda and the misleading claims of retired army officers created confusion about Raheel Sharif’s role in the coalition. With some reservations, I had supported the idea that Pakistan should join the coalition, with Raheel Sharif leading its army. I thought that his presence in the coalition would bring Saudi Arabia and Iran closer.

But what I observed in the three days in Riyadh, made me come to the conclusion that Raheel Sharif’s position in the coalition is not as decisive as being claimed in Pakistan. His role in policy formulation and decision-making will be nominal.        

Pakistan’s importance can be gauged by the fact that our prime minister was not allowed to address the summit. It would be in our best interests to call back Raheel Sharif and keep Pakistan’s role minimal in the coalition – on the pattern of Turkey and Oman.

Admittedly, both Saudi Arabia and Iran have tremendous importance for Pakistan. The former is the leader of the Arab world and the latter is a close neighbour. Pakistan should keep close ties with both the countries and not become party to the regional proxy war.       

Their rivalry has nothing to do with religion, though they use religion and sect for their agendas. History and nationalism play a decisive role in their tussle.

Due to their rivalry, the entire Middle East is in crisis and Yemen and Syria are bleeding. Their proxy war indirectly helps Israel and destabilises Iraq, Syria and Yemen.     Both countries can go to any limit in their mutual rivalry. Iran has reportedly strengthened ties with militant groups, approached the Taliban and even become a partner of the US in Iraq. Similarly, the Saudi leadership is ready to flatter Trump and even embrace Israel, but does not give any space to Iran.

We should stay away from this power politics of the Middle East and keep our relations away from influences of religion. We should be rational in our approach, and treat them as they treat us. It is time to give firmly ask them not to drag us in their rivalry. We already have to deal with many crises and cannot afford further proxy games.

It is unfortunate that some segments of our society promote the interests of either Saudi Arabia or Iran. Sectarian inclination or monetary benefits define their loyalties with either power. We should focus on all such forces that promote the agenda of external powers at the cost of domestic peace and stability. Those who are loyal to any other country should not make Pakistan a battle ground of their own wars. These powers should be firmly asked to stop such proxy games inside Pakistan.

It is no more a secret that some religious personalities and some parties in Pakistan are taking money from both these powers. Saudi Arabia sponsors one religious council while Iran invests hugely in another. Alarmingly, even some generals seem to have enjoyed such generosity; Gen (r) Musharraf had openly admitted that his property in Dubai and London was bought with Saudi money. Both these external powers have and feed proxies inside Pakistan; these proxies become overactive when the role of these two powers is questioned.

We should not suffer from an inferiority complex. Saudi Arabia and Iran may have oil reserves, but we are far ahead of them in human freedom, and social and political values. We need to be honest with ourselves and never compromise our core national interests. This is a time of nation-states, a time when national interest – instead of religion – defines priorities. Though religion and sect are being used in foreign policy, no one can base relations solely on these two aspects.

We should be rational and realistic and base our foreign policy on our national interest. We should respect those who respect us and protect the interests of those who protect our interests.

Pakistan needs to draw redlines and liberate its foreign policy from external influences. If Saudi Arabia cannot become the enemy of India for our sake, then why should we target Iran for their sake? The same goes for Iran as well.

 

The writer works for Geo TV.

Email: [email protected]

 

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