The countries along the Arabian Gulf starting from Iran to Libya are termed as the Middle East countries. All these are the Muslim countries except Israel. Historically, Pakistan has very good relations with all of these countries. Muslim pilgrims visit these countries especially Saudi Arabia, as it is the center of Islam. Immediately after independence, Pakistan established strong ties with these countries in the fields of trade, diplomatic relations, military and manpower. Pakistan also helped them through military resources during Arab-Israel wars. This region holds a lot of significance for us because a large number of our workers and professionals have their jobs and businesses there. It is estimated that 2.5 million Pakistanis are employed in Saudi Arabia at present and another 1.2 million are working in other Arab countries. The money sent by them to Pakistan contributes almost 50% of our total foreign remittances. We also import much of our petroleum products from there, most of which comes from Saudi Arabia.  

These Muslim countries are always helpful for us in the times of need but role of Saudi Arabia, in this respect, has always been outstanding. All these factors indicate the Geo-strategic and financial importance of these countries for Pakistan , which is why; we cannot remain impartial from fast changes taking place in this region. 

The Middle East is facing a multi-dimensional crisis. The rise of Arab Spring was thought to be a good change in the region but it turned into a dreadful nightmare. This movement got momentum against the dictatorships but later on turned into the civil wars. Currently Libya, Syria, Iraq and now Yemen are suffering from the same situation. The rise of ISIS (The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has been a result of this. ISIS has a power of about 100,000 militants including 20,000 from 90 countries and many more are still joining it. It has a strong control over many areas of Iraq and Syria. ISIS is fighting mainly against the Shia forces so Iran is supporting them. The same is the situation in Yemen where the Hothis are the Shias who are fighting against their own legitimate government and are also supported by Iran. 

The second Gulf war started by USA in 2003 against Saddam enabled them to have military control over the Middle East . But the policies adopted by USA created the consequences favorable for the ISIS and now these policies have converted this war into Shia-Sunni rivalry. In this war, the USA and its allies have divided the Middle East into two distinct blocks. The first block, Iraq, Syria, Hothi tribes of Yemen and Hezbollah, are led by Iran and the second block, Egypt, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Yemen, is led by Saudi Arabia. Many countries are opposing and supporting these blocks. Pakistan has also to take its stand because we cannot remain impartial in this conflict, but the question is what should be role of Pakistan and what consequences shall we have to face? 

It is a prevailing thought that Pakistan should not take direct part in this war and rather play a mediating role. Iran is our neighbor and we cannot afford direct conflict with them. Secondly, almost half of our army is on Eastern borders along India and the remaining force is engaged in war against terrorism along our North-Western borders of Afghanistan. Thirdly, our economy is also facing a great depression, so we cannot afford this war. But on other hand, it is our religious duty to safeguard the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in case of any threat. And finally, we have gotten many benefits from these countries, especially Saudi Arabia, in the past and also we have many future benefits with them, so we cannot ignore them. All these factors make the situation complex for Pakistan . It remains up to the government to take a wise decision to safeguard the interest of the country. 

TARIQ MAHMOOD KHAN,  

Faisalabad, August 19.