In navigating the Saudi–Iran divide, Pakistan has tried to get the best of both worlds – as it should – however, in reality it is not getting much of either. Admittedly, there is an inherent difficulty in maintaining balance across such a stark and antagonistic divide, there can be no excuses for a diplomatic policy that sees Pakistan struggling to get in the good books of both nations. The perceived snub at the “Anti-Terrorism Summit” held in Riyadh emphasises that point.

Not only was the Prime Minister not given any time to address the assembled leaders from the Muslim world, the speeches made by President Donald Trump and the Saudi King Salman both pointedly ignored mentioning the efforts of Pakistan in being a victim of terrorism and recognising its role in effectively combating the threat. India – which enjoys close ties with the US president – got a mention however, undercutting Pakistan’s narrative on Kashmir and beyond. Both King Salman and President Trump seemed more interested in denouncing Iran than talking about anti-terrorism, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had to sit there tacitly agreeing to all that was being said.

It is a shame that Pakistan did not get to push its narrative despite being a major contributor to Saudi Arabia’s military capacity and only member of the coalition with extensive anti-terrorism experience. What is the benefit of pandering to wishes of the kingdom, if Pakistan’s narrative is so easily dismissed, especially at the cost of damaged relations with our much more immediate neighbour? It should be clear now to the government what the rest of the nation has known since the so called coalition was announced – that this is thinly veiled Middle-Eastern power play, which Pakistan needs to stay clear off.

The fact that the government scrambled to get out a counter message to the one being put out by the summit vis-à-vis Iran shows that it is at least appreciative of the damage caused by the summit. Reportedly, the Interior Minister will visit Tehran soon to meet with his counterpart and try to smooth over the “misunderstandings” of the past few months. With the relationship with Iran having boiled down to increasingly aggressive posturing and a complete breakdown in bilateral cooperation, it would take much more than a visit by the Interior Minister to get matters back on track. The Prime Minister has suffered through the optics of attending a blatantly anti-Iran summit; will he be bold enough to suffer the consequences of making a personal trip to Tehran?