ISLAMABAD - Pakistan is struggling to remain neutral among the regional rivals as it makes efforts to save close ties with Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Malaysia, top officials said.

All the four Muslim-majority countries have a claim to regional leadership in one way or the other with Pakistan being a common friend. Islamabad, as the only nuclear power among the Muslim-majority countries, has been active to defuse tension among the potential regional powers.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told The Nation that Pakistan efforts were aimed to avoid a conflict in the region and work together for peace and prosperity.

“All these countries (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Malaysia) are important for Pakistan. We want joint efforts foe the region,” he said.

Pakistan, he said, was committed to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, that has supported the Kashmir cause for long.

Only this week, Iran’s ambassador to Pakistan Seyyed Mohammad Ali Hosseini proposed a new bloc of five countries - Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, Russia and China -to boost cooperation and resolve issues in the region.

“Countries like Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Russia and China have the potential to form a new alliance for better future of the region,” he said in a lecture at the Islamabad Strategic Studies Institute.

In view of cooperation among important regional countries, Hosseini said, Economic Cooperation Organization - a political and economic intergovernmental organization of Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey - can play its role in the economic development.

“ECO provides an appropriate opportunity for Iran-Pakistan to coordinate their policies in line with economic growth and render necessary ground to facilitate economic activities and encourage investment and trade and remove transit hurdles between the two countries,” he added.

The Iranian envoy said Pakistan, as an Islamic and neighboring country, attains special place in the foreign policy of Iran.

Foreign Office spokesperson Aisha Farooqui said Pakistan was playing it role for peace in the region and joint efforts of the Ummah (nation). “All the countries are valuable. We have historic ties with all of them. We want to prosper together,” she said.

She said the OIC had supported Pakistan’s point of view on occupied Kashmir and Pakistan was also thankful to Malaysia and Iran for their stand on the Kashmir issue.

Aisha Farooqui said Pakistani leaders had been in regular contact with the regional leadership in accordance with the foreign policy.

Other officials however, said it was not an easy task to remain neutral among the friendly countries that were ideologically opposed to each other. “It is a struggle and we are struggling. There has been a partial success so far. We are moving forward though,” one official told The Nation.

said Prime Minister Imran Khan had a vision of bringing all the Muslim-majority countries closer and remove their misunderstandings. “Even on US-Iran conflict, we are playing a role for peace,” he maintained.

Pakistan’s top leaders have been exchanging visits with all the four countries in a bid to remove misunderstandings among them.

Prime Minister Imran Khan is concerned about the domestic fallout of a regional conflict as he strives to bring the two powers to the table.

He is also facing criticism for meddling in a regional dispute when his government has more pressing economic and political issues to deal with at home.

FM Qureshi traveled to Iran and Saudi Arabia recently and met his counterparts in a bid to de-escalate tensions. The diplomatic outreach came amid worries that the US and its allies in the Middle East could become embroiled in a renewed conflict with Iran and its proxies following the assassination of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani.

Experts, say that PM Khan was keen on playing the role of a mediator exactly because he has an eye on the domestic implications of a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Since coming to power in 2018, Khan has visited Iran twice. Peace in the region works in Pakistan’s interest as any conflict can affect millions of Pakistanis who work in the Middle East and send home valuable remittances.

In December, PM Khan and FM Qureshi had cancelled their participation in a meeting of Muslim leaders in Kuala Lumpur at the last moment to avert ‘division’ among the Muslim Ummah (nation).

 The summit hosted by Malaysia’s Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad was reportedly opposed by Saudi Arabia and other Arab States who saw it as a threat to the Jeddah-based OIC. Pakistan has historic ties with Saudi Arabia and it also relies on Saudi financial aid whenever there’s a balance of payment crisis.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meanwhile will address Pakistan’s parliament on February 14 during his two-day visit to Islamabad. Asad Qaisar, the speaker of the National Assembly announced that Erdogan would address the joint sitting of the parliament for the record fourth time. Erdogan is expected to arrive in Islamabad on February 13 for a two-day visit.

Aisha Farooqui said: “The visit is taking place as per the schedule agreed by both sides. They are working very hard to finalize the substantive program of this visit.” She reiterated that Pakistan and Turkey had very warm, brotherly and cordial relations.

 “We support each other on core issues. Pakistan looks forward to the visit of the Turkish president. All details of the visit will be shared with you in due course,” she added. Erdogan paid his last visit to Pakistan in November 2016 - his first visit to the South Asian nuclear state since assuming the presidency in August 2014.