Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will travel to the Riyadh on Sunday to attend the first Arab-Islamic-American Summit, whose non-American element has often been described as the “Arab NATO”. The headline of the summit however, will be the US President Donald Trump; this is his first foreign trip during an embattled time back at home and is being widely touted by the US administration as a chance to “reset” relations with the Muslim world. Seeing as the invitees do not include Iran or Syria, the definition of the phrase “Muslim world” is decidedly limited to the Sunni world.

While Pakistan has tried at times not to be drawn into this Saudi-led effort to create an anti-Iran coalition of sorts, its efforts have been inconsistent at best. The Parliament managed to keep the Pakistani army out of the Yemen conflict – which has been characterised by deadly bombing runs against civilian targets – it did not stay out of the vaguely defined “anti-terrorism” coalition. With former Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif heading this force and now the Prime Minister visiting Riyadh to take part in summit where American support for this coalition is expected to be publically established and materially strengthened, it seems like Pakistan has picked its side.

Such a stark divide is unfortunate; as Iran has heavily reelected a moderate reformist President in Rouhani, who has shown willingness to deepen ties with Pakistan. This is beside the objective fact that Pakistan needs to cooperate with Iran on numerous issues.

Outside the optics of the “Arab NATO”, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is not expected to play a large part at the summit. The central agreement expected to be signed is a $110 billion weapons deal between the Saudis and the US, with perhaps a few other cooperation enhancing agreements signed – there is nothing that will directly affect Pakistan. While a brief one-on-one meeting between Nawaz Sharif and Donald Trump may be on the cards, considering the schedule of the summit it should not be expected, and even if it did take place, the chance of something meaningful coming out of it is limited.

While Pakistan – especially its military – is a key part of this coalition and Pakistan is a major party of the “Muslim world” that Donald Trump expects to connect with, Pakistan itself should not subsume itself into this group. The need to balance relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia has always been a tricky task, however Pakistan must stick to it. The re-election of Hassan Rouhani serves as an ideal incident with which to outreach and offset the effect of this Sunni-Arab summit.