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June 14, 2017

Mediation for the Gulf


June 14, 2017

The importance Pakistan attaches to resolving the latest turmoil in the Middle East can be gauged by the fact that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s entourage for his one-day visit to Jeddah included his closest advisers and Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa. During his trip, Nawaz met with King Salman bin Abdul Aziz and was received by Makkah Governor Prince Faysal bin Abdul Aziz. As yet, it is unclear if the mission was successful in convincing the Saudis that the blockade of Qatar is counter-productive but it was important for Pakistan to state its position. As an ally of both Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the rift places Pakistan in a difficult position. Nawaz has had good relations with the royal families of both countries which puts him in a good position to act as a mediator. Saudi Arabia and Qatar might expect us to be on their respective sides but the National Assembly has made clear that Pakistan will not be supporting any one country over the other. The perilous position we are in can be seen by the fake news reports emerging from Turkey that Pakistan will be sending troops to Qatar. The Foreign Office quickly denied these reports but such speculation can affect our relations with both the countries.

There are additional complicating factors for Pakistan. Pakistan joined the Saudi-led military alliance against terrorism and former army chief Raheel Sharif was given the go-ahead to head it on the condition that the alliance be directed only against militants. The blockade of Qatar, which itself was prompted by Qatar’s closeness to Iran, has made Pakistan’s membership of the alliance more problematic. Pakistan will now have to rethink Raheel Sharif’s role in a military alliance that is increasingly being viewed as sectarian. Our own relationship with Iran is rocky, with recent border incidents prompting threats from Iran that it would launch raids on Pakistani territory should they continue. This is yet another reason to stay neutral in the Saudi-Qatar rift. Now that Nawaz has returned to Pakistan, the government will need to see what role Pakistan will continue to play in trying to achieve peace. Other countries such as Kuwait are also acting as mediators while the UN is now involved as well. If Nawaz’s Jeddah trip was unable to convince the Saudis to back down, then perhaps we should maintain our bilateral ties with all the countries in this conflict without involving ourselves any further.         


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