Pakistan played a major role in the covert operations of the USA to counter the expansion of Soviet influence in central and south-west Asia in the 1970s. When the USA backed the mujahideen in Afghanistan financially and by arming them, Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency was also on-board. We trained these mujahideen and provided them with bases in our territory. History is witness to how these elements later turned hostile to our own state. Thirty six years have passed since the war started, but we are still suffering from the aftereffects of the war. Our army today is engaging in a decisive battle to get rid of Islamic militancy for once and for all. Our institution’s endeavor to engage in a proxy war in partnership with an ally backfired for us.

Some sources recently reported that the new Saudi king has asked Prime Minister Sharif to expand the presence of Pakistani troops within Saudi Arabia to help it deal with internal and external threats, including a possible combat with the Islamic State. It is also reported that Saudi Arabia also approached the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Egyptian President Abdul Fateh Al-Sisi to create a Sunni-bloc against Iran and militants of the Islamic State.  Other Arab nations are also speculated to have been taken into confidence by Saudi Arabia .

Saudi Arabia is facing challenges that are unprecedented in its history. In its south, Houthi Shias are rising to power. Saudi Arabia alleges that Iran has backed the Shia insurgency and is worried over Iran’s increased influence in the area. On the flipside, it is also worried about Tehran’s nuclear deal with Washington, just as much as Israel is, since it will further augment Iran’s already rising political influence in the Muslim world. Iran and Saudi Arabia have historically been at loggerheads and have backed rival militants in armed conflicts within the Muslim world.

Towards the Kingdom’s north the Islamic State is increasing in its military power and has been able to hold onto territory it occupied last year. Even though the Islamic State militants are ideological followers of the Salafi doctrine identical to the rulers of Saudi Arabia , its ambition to control the holy sites located in Saudi Arabia is troublesome for Riyadh.

Pakistan has long enjoyed a special relationship with Saudi Arabia . Pakistan has the world’s fifth largest military and is the sole Muslim nuclear state; in that capacity we have always fulfilled Saudi Arabia’s defense needs. Whether it was repelling an incursion by South Yemen in 1969 or helping to end the seizure of the Grand Mosque a decade later. The relationship has been entirely reciprocal with Saudi Arabia assisting Pakistan economically at all times.

Saudi Arabia is our main source of petroleum and has supplied us with extensive financial aid and loans. In fact the relationship of the Saudi kings with Nawaz Sharif , our current premier, has been more than exemplary. Just last year the Saudis gave the Sharif government $1.5 billion to help boost the country’s exchange reserves. Some, however, speculated that this gift was conditional on Pakistan sending militants to Syria to assist in toppling Bashar al-Assad’s regime. This move backfired and the Islamic State, which has now gained substantial ground in Iraq and Syria, has now become a threat to Saudi Arab itself. This is why, I think Nawaz Sharif will have to swallow the bitter pill and take some hard decision, which might result in a compromise on his friendship with the rulers of Saudi Arabia .

Pakistan has not stayed short at military adventurism. We helped Syria in the Ramadan War against Israel for instance. In fact at one point in time the then serving chief of army staff hinted at joining the first Gulf War in support of Iraq. None of these had any business with our country, but we went ahead and stuck our nose in the conflicts. We need to learn from the Soviet War, since we are still suffering from its after effects. Extending military help to Saudi Arabia to help dismantle the Shia uprising in Yemen would put a strain on our relationship with Iran, with whom we share a long border.

Our relationship with Afghanistan has just improved owing to efforts by General Raheel Sharif and President Ashraf Ghani. Our relations with India are not in an ideal state. In my opinion we should not start a cold war with Iran, with Zarb-e-Azb going on, this might not be the best of times. Similarly if we accept Saudi Arabia’s demand to help them defend against the Islamic State, we would unnecessarily get involved in a conflict that concerns the Middle East and not us.

Why should we start picking more enemies in the form of radicals? I believe we have enough of them carrying out terrorist attacks in our own country. Experience dictates that we should not involve the state in any proxy wars. It is my opinion that this time around we should stay neutral and apologize to Saudi Arabia over not extending military help.

As George Bernard Shaw once said, “Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time.