MUHAMMAD AMIR RANA is a well-known expert on terrorism-related affairs and authored books in Urdu on security issues in that background. His latest piece on Dawn website appeared today (Tuesday) Yemen conflict: Neutrality no longer an option for Pakistan?
First, what he wrote:
“The growing concern that Pakistan’s direct involvement in the Yemeni crisis could have grave consequences for its internal security and sectarian harmony are valid. It will widen the sectarian divide in the society and the risk of sectarian violence will increase.
“The existing complex militant landscape of the country will open up spaces for ultra-sectarian groups like the self-styled IS. (Daish or ISIS or ISIL).
“In that context, a rational and sensible choice for Pakistan could be to stay away from the Yemeni conflict and not become a party in it. But is this option available for Pakistan? If yes, what would be the cost of being impartial?
“The Saudis have deep influence inside Pakistan’s state institutions and have gradually been encroaching into spaces that impact public spheres. Saudi Arabia is among the three countries that have had an important place in Pakistan’s foreign policy determinants.
“Compared to Saudis, the US and China enjoy less privilege in Pakistan although they also have an influence over the latter’s internal political and military issues. The Saudis have at times played a mediatory role in resolving the civil-military and other political crises in Pakistan.
“Take a look: Yemen conundrum
“It is not difficult to understand how the Saudi influence increased in Pakistan. Though historically Pakistan has tried to keep a balanced relationship with the Middle Eastern states, especially with Iran and Saudi Arabia, its tilt towards Riyadh started after military dictator General Zia ul Haq took over the government.
“However, Pakistan had tried to avoid any confrontation with Iran at the cost of its warm relations with Saudi Arabia. But maintaining a balanced relationship with the two countries has always been a tricky task.
“To keep the strategic and diplomatic balance of this three-way equation in its favour, Saudis provided not only economic assistance to Pakistan at many critical occasions but also diplomatic support on critical issues including Kashmir, Afghanistan and Pakistan’s nuclear program. (*)
“They also strengthened their ties with Pakistan’s military, political establishments and religious elites to an extent where they have become movers and shakers in Pakistan’s internal affairs.
“The sectarian view of the Saudis holds a central place in defining their bilateral and strategic relations with the Muslim countries.
“Countries like Pakistan, which are in a process of democratic transition and where sectarian tendencies have not yet encroached into national political discourse, face a dilemma in their relations with Saudi Arabia. (**)
“Pakistan’s political parties have different sectarian credentials and may look towards Riyadh differently when in power. (***)
“The Saudis’ views about the previous government of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and its leadership are not a secret. The Saudis did not hide their feelings towards ‘Shia and Iran-friendly’ government of the PPP and refused to supply oil on deferred payments. The cut in oil supplies had worsened the economic crisis in Pakistan during the PPP government. (****)
“That pushed the PPP government towards Tehran. The signing of the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline project in 2013 was a strategic move by the former president Asif Ali Zardari to create some geo-economic balance in Pakistan’s relationship with Tehran and Riyadh.
“Iran has built its part of the pipeline as per the agreement and gas supply will not take much time to start if Pakistan also completes its section of the pipeline. Iran believes the present Pakistani government is delaying the pipeline project under Saudi and US pressure.
“Apart from sectarian and other considerations, the IP gas project was one of the reasons behind the surge in cordial relationship between the Saudis and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government.
“The Saudis provided US $1.5 billion in unconditional financial assistance to Pakistan early last year as a goodwill gesture.
“The PML-N government can get more assistance if it continues serving the purpose of the Riyadh. But this might not be easy for the government because public sentiments are not in favour of Pakistan’s Saudi-influenced involvement in the Yemeni crisis.
“Many political leaders are insisting that Pakistan must play the role of a mediator between Iran and Saudi Arabia. There is no doubt that Pakistan can make diplomatic efforts to reduce the diplomatic stress between these two countries, but the recent military action in Yemen has reduced chances for that.
“The Saudis are on a diplomatic offensive to influence their close allies including Pakistan and would not allow them to hold a neutral position over the Middle East crisis.
“Not only the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) but other African and Asian countries, including Turkey, and even the US and Western allies of Pakistan are supporting the Saudis’ venture in Yemen.
“This is a “crucial moment” of decision-making for Islamabad in terms of weighing its options especially when the option of neutrality is not available.
“While the economic and strategic costs of neutrality will be high, taking sides could have its own sectarian and security-related implications.”
Shiite News is of the view that despite a balanced viewpoint on the current situation, facts has it that cost of participation of the U.S.-Saudi alliance irreparable losses to Pakistan in terms of economic, security and credibility. Afghan war policy during Zia brought KK culture and narcotics and continued instability in all over Pakistan, let alone borders with Afghanistan.
IP gas pipeline will help reduce energy crisis at the cheapest price and electricity from Iran will help surmount energy crisis in Balochistan province at the cheapest cost and at the earliest as compared to all other options. We have land and sea borders with Iran too and pro-Taliban foreign policy-makers were selling “a peaceful friendly neighbor in Afghanistan,” so why that theory is not applied to Iran as well?
As a matter of fact, the real issue is: Pakistan will really become an independent, sovereign and self-reliant nation-state according to the ideals of founding fathers of Pakistan or not? If all focus on that, answer is post-revolution Iran is what founding fathers of Pakistan dreamt of future Pakistan with the difference of parliamentary system. The architect of Pakistan ideology Dr Mohammad Iqbal aka Allama Iqbal condemned monarchies, despots and allies of imperialists/colonialists in Muslim world. Iran’s Palestine policy is what Jinnah and Iqbal designed for Pakistan.
Israel poses threat to Islam, Muslims, Arabs and Palestinians in particular. Instead of bombardment on Zionist Israeli occupiers in Tel Aviv, Dead Sea, Mediterranean Sea, occupied Golan Heights, Occupied Shebaa Farms, Saudis bomb Yemen whose Zaydi Shia ruler Imam Yahya thanked founder of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah for support to Palestine. Hence, it is not between Iran and Saudi but in fact Pakistan has to choose between its principled anti-colonialists and anti-war ideology and Saudis-U.S. alliance.