Around Tuesday evening Foreign Affairs advisor to the PM, Sartaj Aziz, confirmed that Pakistan has said Yes and No to Saudi Arabia – yes, we’re a part of the 34-state ‘counter-terror coalition’ and no, we aren’t sending any troops to the Middle East. Foreign Office sources have suggested that Pakistani support would be limited to intelligence sharing, military personnel training and provision of military hardware.

While political correctness is brimming over at the Foreign Office, with claims that Pakistan would “present important proposals to reduce the Iran-Saudi tension” in an emergency OIC meeting called in Jeddah, the fact that Islamabad has formally said yes to being a part of what conspicuously is a Sunni alliance is problematic on many levels.

For starters all Saudi-led alliances are quintessentially sectarian, not only in terms of their composition, but almost always in their goals as well. Every time high-profile visitors from within the Arabian Peninsula frequent Pakistan in quick succession they arrive with the same demand for Islamabad: troops to fight the Shia.

Five years ago, Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan visited Pakistan twice and was followed by Bahraini foreign minister and National Guard commander. The request was for troops to fight Shia rebels in Bahrain, who had caught up with the Arab Spring and were clamouring for political rights. Fauji Foundation advertised Bahrain National Guard positions in Pakistani publications with around 2,500 Sunni men sent to Manama in 2011. Pakistanis make around one-third of the National Guard of Bahrain, a country where the local Shia find it impossible to enroll in the army.

Two years ago the now Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz came to Pakistan and was closely followed by Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah, the Bahraini King. The task this time was even bigger: in addition to quelling the renewed Shia uprising in Bahrain, Pakistan was asked send troops to fight Bashar al-Assad in Syria whose government began consolidating its gains in early 2014. The combined reward for Islamabad was $2.25 billion, which put the brakes on the Pakistani rupee fall.

In March last year, PM Nawaz Sharif was invited to Riyadh with King Salman bin Abdul Aziz going to the airport to personally receive him. This was the lead-up to the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, which Riyadh wanted to maintain as its satellite state by reestablishing the government of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. Following Operation Decisive Storm, Hadi has been restored as the Yemen president, after the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) quelled the Shia Houthi rebels.

While Pakistan’s Parliament decided against sending troops to Yemen last year, PM Nawaz, who owes at least the second half of his political career to al-Saud family, reiterated that Pakistan would ‘react strongly to violation of Saudi integrity’. Nawaz had also ensured that Pakistan sent 11,000 to US-led coalition against Iraq in the Gulf War in 1991, during his first term as the premier, when even the then Army Chief Mirza Aslam Beg was vocally against participation in the war.

While Nawaz definitely has grown as a politician in the past quarter of a century, his indebtedness to the Saudi family will always be a stumbling block in Islamabad making decisions completely designed on the basis of national self-interests. And so with Saudi Defence Minister Muhammad Bin Salman and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir visiting Islamabad in the first ten days of the new year, the pressure is mounting on the Nawaz government.

Government sources have revealed off the record that Saudi officials have asked for support in ‘enhanced action’ against Iran, after Riyadh and Tehran came to blows following the execution of Saudi cleric Sheikh al-Nimr on January 2. With Saudi embassies torched in Iran, followed by Bahrain and Sudan joining Saudi Arabia in expelling Iranian ambassadors, the Shia-Sunni fault-lines have been brimming over throughout the Middle East.

The 34-state ‘Islamic coalition’ to counter terrorism will evidently be used to counter the traditional Schiitischer Halbmond – or the Shia Crescent. Saudi has long been paranoid about the crescent evolving into a full moon around the Saudi Kingdom, with Assad’s Syria, the Shia majority Iraq and Bahrain, all joining Iran in a Shia cordon in Saudi north and east. That paranoia has further been fueled by the US-Iran nuclear deal, which threatens to replace Saudi oil barrels with Iranians in the global oil market, in turn giving Tehran the geopolitical leverage in the Middle East that Riyadh currently enjoys.

It’s actually the Shia majority province Ash-Sharqiyyah (Eastern Province) which has long threatened to spark a direct Saudi-Iran conflict, in lieu of the decades-long proxy warfare. It is Ash-Sharqiyyah that geographically links Iran to Yemen, which can potentially complete the ‘Shia encirclement’ around the Saudi kingdom. The Eastern Province, which borders the Shia-majority Bahrain, also holds most of the Saudi oil. The province was the hub of the movement for democracy orchestrated by al-Nimr, whose execution was a clear signal of war from Riyadh.

That countering Iran is higher on the Saudi agenda than ISIS, which Riyadh was long funding before it could self-sustain on occupied oil wells, shows the perilous nature of the ‘counter-terror’ alliance that Pakistan has agreed to be a part of. Saudi might no longer be backing ISIS, now that it has finally realised that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s caliphate-lusting terror group wants to replace it as the global Muslim leader, but it’s evident where Riyadh will dedicate most of its security energy: the Shia in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and Ash-Sharqiyyah.

Granted the presence of thousands of Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia, and the long-standing Islamabad-Riyadh ties, won’t allow Pakistan to just say no to Saudi, it will have to turn down any action in these regions. Yemen is following Syria in creating a vacuum waiting to be filled by ISIS, owing to Saudi’s erratic bombardment, and Pakistan wouldn’t want to be a part of its aggravation.

That ISIS has penetrated Pakistani borders, local Islamist militants are gravitating towards the Islamic State and over 100 citizens from Punjab have fled to the Middle East to fight alongside it, means that fight against the terror group is no longer a foreign issue for Islamabad. While Pakistan absolutely needs to be a part of the war against ISIS, it should first take on the local militant groups, many of whom are pledging allegiance to al-Baghdadi. Fighting the anti-ISIS war with the state that has long supported the group, and which currently has its interests elsewhere, would inadvertently make Pakistan a part of the problem it has been trying to solve of late.

Pakistan digging out JeM chief Masood Azhar from Bahawalpur signals the right intent and should put the Indo-Pak dialogue back on track. That Islamabad is simultaneously occupied on the Saudi front will be an unneeded distraction at best, with bigger domestic and regional challenges at hand.