DIPLOMATIC FOCUS

ISLAMABAD - There has been a venomous reaction from some of Gulf Arab rulers over Pakistan’s response to Saudi request to join the Arab military coalition against Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The remarks of UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash on Saturday suggested they all including the House of Saud are feeling letdown. They may have strong reasons to curse the government in Pakistan which they deemed of their own. But they do not realise the fact that Pakistan in terms of governance is altogether different from the governance systems in Arab states. They do not realise the fact that personal relations with rulers in such a political dispensation as that of Pakistan, is no more a political tool they can depend anymore. Pakistan has changed over the decades and now has a vibrant parliamentary democratic system. The unanimous resolution adopted by the parliament of Pakistan on Friday last is in fact reflection of the collective wisdom of the people of Pakistan.

This is regardless to state Pakistan’s relations with Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or any other Arab Gulf state or its relations with Iran. It has been evident from the fact that government of Prime Minister Sharif reformed Pakistan’s foreign policy ever since it came into power. The foundation of the reformed foreign policy calls for enhanced bilateral ties with its immediate neighbours. This has done after thorough soul searching by Islamabad of the impact of its policy towards Afghanistan. The sufferings of people both in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the proxy wars fought by the major powers had forced Islamabad to reform its policy towards Afghanistan and again credit for all that goes to democratic process in Pakistan.

Eventually Pakistan had to give up its policy of finding strategic depth in Afghanistan. So, based on these reforms, the government of Prime Minister Sharif squeezed its freedom of choice action as was evident in the parliament. Despite the fact that Prime Minister Sharif enjoys very personal relations with the rulers in Saudi Arabia, his government cannot just ignore a balanced relationship with the neighbouring Iran, which has been accused by Saudi Arabia of backing the Houthi rebels in Yemen. There might have been some tacit understanding between the government of Prime Minister Sharif and Saudi government, but it has evidently failed to produce the desired results. Although Saudi powerful Minister of Islamic Affairs, Sheikh Saleh bin Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh, who arrived in Islamabad on Sunday late, ostensibly in ‘damage control’ effort, clarified that unanimous passage of resolution by the Pakistan parliament is its internal matter. He further clarified that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy close brotherly and friendly relations and these relations will grow further and Saudi Arabia expects best from Pakistan.

One hopes other Arab rulers would do the same and follow rational approach after Islamabad has made it candidly clear that any threat to territorial integrity and sovereignty of Saudi Arabia will evoke Pakistan’s strongest reaction. Such a benchmark in state to state relations would further help in cementing Pakistan’s relations with Arab states as well as with its neighbours including Iran and Afghanistan which too are Islamic countries.