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February 23, 2018

‘Pakistan maintains balance in ties with Iran, S Arabia’

National

February 23, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan on Thursday said that Pakistan was maintaining a delicate balance in its ties with Saudi Arabia and Iran and is cautious of being drawn into Middle East’s sectarian power struggles.

“Pakistan has an “ideological affinity and deep military, economic, and leadership” ties with the Kingdom, whereas it is building “economic cooperation and counter-terrorism links” with Iran. “An opening has been achieved with Iran,” the Defence Minister said while inaugurating an international seminar on ‘Contemporary Relations between Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia: Present Challenges’ organised by Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), an Islamabad based think tank.

SVI had organised the seminar to study options available with Pakistan to maintain fragile equilibrium in its ties with Iran and Saudi Arabia in view of their growing rivalry and shifting geo-political environment in the region. SVI believes that Pakistan needs to pursue viable policies to effectively play the role of a mediator in conflict-riven Middle East and Gulf region.

The defence minister explained the principles driving Pakistan’s Middle East policy. He said the government’s Middle East policy was “undergirded by its longstanding close relations with Saudi Arabia and by the focus on limiting the domestic fallout of sectarian tensions stemming from the Saudi Arabia – Iran rivalry.”

Relations with Saudi Arabia, the defense minister said, are being updated and expanded into new areas including economic and industrial cooperation.

Khurram Dastgir said that Pakistan had for decades deputed its troops to Saudi Arabia under bilateral agreements on training and advisory missions.

Iranian Ambassador to Pakistan Mehdi Honardoost looked cautiously optimistic about the future of Pak-Iran ties. He said the horizon was bright despite impediments and obstacles.

The ambassador said that Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline was not progressing and moreover no progress has been made on establishment of banking channels.

He assured that Indian involvement in Chahbahar Port would not be allowed to be used against Pakistan.

Ambassador Honardoost said Pakistan has the potential to heal widening rift among the Muslim countries.

Former ambassador Syed Hassan Javed cautioned Iran against threats that Indian presence in Chahbahar would pose to Iran’s security itself.

Another former ambassador Arif Kamal stressed on maintaining a balance in relations with Iran and Turkey and said that bending more towards one side could be problematic.

Former Secretary Defence Production Lt Gen ® Syed Muhammad Owais, who presided over the concluding session, said Pakistan’s mediation efforts could contribute to promoting harmony between Muslim countries.

Marvin Weinbaum, a scholar at Middle East Institute, gave an overview of the influences Saudi Arabia and Iran have in Pakistan. He said Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia triad is a difficult one and gets further complicated by Indian and American moves in the region. The changing regional dynamics and domestic situations of the countries in the triad can further test this triad.

Former Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmed Khan said that there was a divergence between how the people and the government viewed the support for Saudi Arabia.

President SVI Zafar Iqbal Cheema said that the latest decision to send troops to Saudi Arabia highlights the challenges Pakistan is facing in walking a tight rope in relations with the two countries.

He believed that an announcement with regard to deployment of troops should have been made by the political government instead of the military’s media wing. He also reminded about the parliamentary resolution on maintaining neutrality in Middle Eastern conflicts.

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