The debate surrounding Pakistan’s inclusion and role in the Saudi-led anti-terror coalition continues to perturb various politicians, lawmakers and observers alike, and for good reason. Thursday’s session in the Senate saw the issue being brought to the forefront once more, with Advisor to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz questioned on the matter by members of the upper house of parliament. According to the Advisor, Pakistan will be employing a balanced approach and there is nothing to fear with regards to Pakistani troops engaging in foreign battles outside Saudi Arabia. However, from our inclusion to the alliance’s mandate announced by Saudi Arabia at the recent summit, Pakistan’s participation and the extent of its commitment is more subject to Saudi whims than Pakistani foreign policy.

The government’s inability to refuse our inclusion or determine the extent of Pakistan’s participation reflects a foreign policy failure on part of the state. Pakistan has repeatedly been unable to assert itself and its stance regarding the alliance, and its overtly anti-Iran nature. Instead, we have seen denials from the circles of government about the actual intent of this coalition, and statements of how Pakistan will back out of anything it does not want to do. But so far, this decision to pull out or assert itself has been lacking, which is why expecting more in the future might not be sensible either.

Former COAS Raheel Sharif’s place at the head of the alliance notwithstanding, Pakistan’s foreign policy should only be determined by the objectives of the current government while taking the regional geopolitical scenario into consideration. Alienating Iran at a time when all other neighbouring countries (with the exception of China) are standing against Pakistan is not the best move, especially in the current climate.

Even if we ignore the obvious sectarian tendencies of isolating Iran, and the fact that Pakistan’s own population has a fairly balanced sectarian population division, the alliance goes against everything the PML-N government is struggling to achieve in the international arena. Closeness to China, a deepening relationship with Russia, and growing cooperation with Iran is the only realistic way forward for Pakistan, now that the US is looking to ally itself firmly with India, and already has Saudi Arabia in its corner with Israel in tow.

Even with this alliance in place, the Muslim world stands to get more divided, and that too on sectarian lines, which is something Pakistan cannot condone or even allow on its home soil. If the alliance has a sectarian leaning, and the Pakistani government is aware of this, why were we only limiting our participation instead of backing out altogether?