The tensions in the Per­sian Gulf are rising once again as the US and Irani­an leaders get involved in a spat of words. The recent threat of a conflict, like all the previous sit­uations, is a reminder of a situa­tion that can rapidly spin out of control in the Persian Gulf, if re­straint is not shown from both sides. While experts in Wash­ington, like Ali Vaez, propose a military hotline between US and Iran, there is a dire need to establish a functional regional diplomatic mechanism that can reign in any aggravating situa­tion in the region.

At the moment, there seems to be absence of either hotline or diplomatic framework between Iran and US. The sanctions on Jawad Zarif, Iran’s foreign min­ister last year by US, has further intensified the situation, which means the doors on diploma­cy are almost closed. Diplomacy has saved the day many times. Compare the present situation with 2016 when Iran’s revolu­tionary guards detained US sail­ors, who, Iran said, had entered the Iran’s territorial waters. At that time the then US Secretary of State had no contact with his Iranian counterpart. Howev­er, in next few hours both sides managed the situation and the American sailors were on their way the next morning. The day was saved by the pro-active di­plomacy.

The diplomatic channel is ab­sent now between US and Iran. It was perhaps back in 2016 when there was an appetite for improving the situation which now seems to be a talk of the past. While US strategy is “maximum pressure”, Iran strategy is “the best defense is a good offence”. But any pressure and retaliatory offense can push the region into chaos that the conflict ridden countries cannot further afford.

The situation in Afghanistan isn’t pleasant where the US has struck a deal but the Taliban continue to target the Afghan forces. Keeping in mind that Iran holds the pieces to the Af­ghan picture. The question is, can the regional countries play role of a mediator in the US-Iran rift? What can be the regional response to any conflict if the situation aggravates?

Historically, different coun­tries have played different roles to de-escalate the situation. On the global level, France has been largely focused on preserving the nuclear deal and Switzer­land, which is also the diplo­matic link between Tehran and Washington, has focused on the release of the prisoners. Among the regional countries Kuwait, Pakistan and Oman have played a crucial rule in terms of region­al security dialogue and war in Yemen.

Oman and Paki­stan have been ac­tively pursuing the regional security dialogue that in­volves two major conflicts; Afghani­stan and Yemen. Iran is actively involved in both along with US and Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan and Oman by main­taining the neutrality have ad­dressed the regional conflicts. The Sultanate facilitated the backdoor diplomatic chan­nel that led to the multilateral meetings that further led to the nuclear negotiations as well as talks on Yemen. While Pakistan, which borders Iran and shares economic and security link­ages with Iran, focused on the Iran-Saudi and UStensions that had aggravated after the alleged attacks on the Saudi oil facility.

Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Iran twice last year as a part of his diplomatic outreach, highlighting Pakistan’s role as a bridge builder and defus­ing tensions in the region. Pa­kistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi too has been actively pursuing the diplomat­ic channels by visiting Iran and Saudi Arabia. Pakistan is Iran’s neighbour which enjoys cor­dial relations with all the major global and regional actors.

The recent tensions can esca­late anytime again. There is dire need for a regional diplomat­ic mechanism that can mediate and de-escalate the situation for regional and global peace. Paki­stan’s strategic position is cru­cial and its regional diplomatic outreach is diverse. Diplomacy, between US and Iran, seems to have taken a back seat in recent rift. This is the right time for the regional countries, and Pakistan especially, to fill in the diplomat­ic gap and further strengthen its position for regional peace and stability.

– The writer is a political

analyst and a TV talk show host based in Islamabad. He tweets @ShamilTaimur