What should be new govt’s priorities in Middle East

From Saudi Arabia to Qatar and from Egypt to Iran, Pakistan has genuinely friendly and stable ties with all sides

2018-08-10T23:22:00+05:00 Samreen Shahid

"We want to improve ties with Iran. Saudi Arabia is a friend who has always stood by us in difficult times. Our aim will be that whatever we can do for conciliation in the Middle East , we want to play that role. Those tensions, that fight, between neighbors, we will try to bring them together. Then there is Afghanistan, a country that has suffered the most in the war on terror. Afghanistan's people need peace. We want peace there. If there is peace in Afghanistan, there will be peace in Pakistan. We will make every effort to achieve peace there. We want to have open borders with Afghanistan” Imran Khan had stated in his speech.

The Middle East , located in the western portion of the Asian continent, is home to 260 million people. The region is composed of 15 countries: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Syria, and Turkey. The region is of utmost importance to the world and maintaining peace in this area is on the top of the priorities list of leaders. It can clearly be seen in the victory speech of Imran Khan that keeping cordial relations with the neighbours and countries in Middle East is so important.

Saudi Arabia-the custodian of the two holy sites for the Muslims, Mecca and Medina-enjoys dominant status in the Muslim world. Iran has been a concordant and influential challenger to Saudi Arabia’s dominant status. Their rivalry has its roots before the existence of Saudi Arabia and continued even when both countries were allies of US. Keeping this feud in mind, it is vital for the upcoming government to come up with policies that contribute in strengthening Pakistan’s relations with both Saudi Arabia and Iran..

Saudi Arabia, a Sunni powerhouse and Iran, the predominant Shia power are rivals based on much in geostrategic interests as in religious differences. For decades, the two energy rich powers have stood on antagonistic sides of conflicts in the Middle East . The highlight of their quarrel is religious differences since they both follow Islam, but different sects. Pakistan, being a Muslim country, not specifically following a sect, can contribute in cooling this heat off, by working on the common points of Islam and not target a specific sect. It is clear, that if Pakistan supports Sunnis, this might deteriorate their relations with Iran, and vice versa. So, it would be in better interest of Pakistan to remain neutral and stay focused in nourishing their alliance with both the countries. Imran Khan already stated in his speech, that they need to improve their ties with Iran as well as Saudi, and this should be the main aim of the newly elected government.

The whole Middle East region is divided into two blocks: Saudi, USA, Bahrain, UAE, Oman, Egypt, Yemen VS Iran, Iraq, Qatar, Syria, and up to some extent, Russia. Turkey and Iran have promised Qatar in supplying food and sending troops. The USA has been sending mixed signals but Trump remains determined on siding with Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Russia has not openly sided with any block but its alliance with Iran and ambition to influence the Middle East may compel it to side with Iranian block.

Amazingly, Pakistan seems to have acted smartly in the Middle Eastern crisis. It has declined to take sides in the latest crisis. The Pakistan’s Parliament decided not to contribute troops to the military alliance formed to fight terrorism in the region, although the alliance seems more as anti-Iran than anything else. Pakistan did send, Gen Raheel Shareef as the head of the military alliance but this appointment is more symbolic in nature than having any real impact on the ground. Pakistan has also offered to play a role of mediator to end the latest Gulf crisis between Saudi Arabia-UAE and Qatar. The newly elected government should continue to act as a mediator and invest in ending this rivalry.

From Saudi Arabia to Qatar and from Egypt to Iran, Pakistan has genuinely friendly and stable ties with all sides — precisely the kind of committed and relatively neutral stakeholder that can act as an interlocutor to help rescue a region from a greater crisis.

On the other hand, the uncertain nature of relation between Afghanistan and Pakistan is complicated by the internal political disputes and outside interference. It has also been marked by uncertainty and frequent escalations generated by the recurrent border disputes, allegations of Taliban support and international interference. As Imran Khan, already mentioned in his speech that Afghanistan is one of the major country that faced difficulties and suffered damages in the hand of these disputes. The border between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been shut down numerous times on the grounds of terrorism.

Undoubtedly, Afghanistan is the place where Taliban’s are feeded but that do not make the country involved in all terrorist activities happening in Pakistan. New Government should have open arms for Afghan people, protecting Pakistan at the same time. They need to be alert so that no terrorist activity can be initiated from Afghanistan. Afghanistan, as a neighbour, is highly important for Pakistan and it is essential for the Government to maintain good relations with them.

The sustainability of Pakistan depends upon the sustainability of the Middle Eastern countries. In order to bring peace in Pakistan, there should be a peaceful environment in its neighboring countries. Hence, it is very important for Pakistan to maintain peace with the Middle East countries and try to work on the common grounds with all of the countries in the region. Pakistan’s new government should make a new foreign policy.

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