At its very outset, the year 2016 has unleashed the long held fears of the global community over the gravity of the Saudi Arab-Iran conflict that has now transited from an age old proxy war into a direct diplomatic standoff. Barely two days into the New Year, Saudi Arabia’s decision to execute the eminent Shiite cleric Nimr-al-Nimr along with 46 individuals charged with terrorism and incitement was impolitic to say the least.

According to wide held beliefs the Sheikhs notoriety for the House of Saud was a result of his blatant and candid criticism of the Saudi government, emanating from the violation of Shiite rights in KSA, something that has eminently been defining the status quo in KSA since ages. It is ironic to note that though the charges on which Sheikh Nimr was executed were that of terrorism and incitement, he was the focal person who abstained his followers from resorting to flagrant practices in 2012 when Shiites protested against the Saud regime. For the Sheikh believed that, “the roar of the word” was far potent in contrast to the practices of belligerency and violence, aimed at making ones grievances heard.

As was anticipated, the execution of the Shiite cleric, precipitated widespread dissent among the Shiite population of the Muslim world.

Kicking off from the torching of the Saudi embassy in Tehran, to the expulsion of the Iranian diplomats from KSA and finally to the generation of a diplomatic impasse, the grave chain of incidents has dashed to the ground any hopes of peace or understanding between the two states. The status quo presents a challenging situation .The Saudi-Iran impasse that has escalated to unprecedented heights is not only ringing danger bells for the socio-political dynamics of the Middle East but also threatening the peace of the global society. The resolution of the conflict has assumed contours of incontrovertibility, something that needs to be done, and done immediately, without any further delay. If left unaddressed, the conflict will not only usher in an era of uncontrolled sectarian schism, necessitate the pervasion of gory terrorist attacks, but also stigmatize Muslims harden anti-Muslim stances in the minds of Non-Muslims.

Under the harrowing circumstances, the exigency of a mediatory posture can usher the de-escalation of the conflict to tolerable limits, allowing KSA and Iran to resolve their differences towards the generation of a considerably peaceful ambiance. The use of mediation in conflict resolution is surely not a new phenomenon. The earliest instance of mediation as a tool in resolving conflict can be traced back to 209 BC when Greek city states assisted the Aetolian League and Macedonia to produce a truce in the first Macedonian War. Since then, countless instances dotting the world history can be traced where mediation, be it of individuals, states or international organizations has effectively resolved conflicts..

In the diplomatic standoff between KSA and Iran, state level mediation under the umbrella of an international organization is necessitated.

International Organizations as the UNO, have a little chance of success in the resolution of this conflict due to the eminent religious contours shading the conflict, which can best be understood by an organization with an Islamic orientation and definition. An organization that comes up to these standards is the OIC, which is in fact the second largest international organization with 57 member states and a representation matrix of 1.6 billion Muslims .It has a greater plausibility of success in conflict resolution due to its past history of curbing the Sunni-Shia schism to tolerable limits, that was defining Iraq following 2003.

Sectarian strife dominated the Iraqi landscape following the US led war in Iraq in 2003 for the removal of Saddam Hussain. Those were the days when both Shiite and Sunni Iraq were at loggerheads, generating unprecedented episodes of flagrancy. The sad recurrence of violence against individuals, attacks on holy shrines, graveyards and residential areas were fast assuming the status of a norm. It was under these dangerous circumstances that the then OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu personally intervened to negotiate peace between the two parties in 2006 .Being conscientious of the sacredness of the month of Ramadan and the holy land of Mecca for Muslims irrespective of their sects, he invited there the leaders of both the parties to initiate a reconciliatory process .The place and the timing of the meeting was to serve as a moral pressure to elicit a cooperative response from the parties, which they did, making the talks a success.

Also the neutrality of the OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu was a major factor in ensuring the success of the reconciliatory talks. Had the then OIC Secretary General not been neutral, the Sunni-Shiite schism would have transited into a juggernaut, wreaking havoc in the region.

Conscientiousness of OIC on similar lines is demanded in the resolution of Saudi –Iran conflict. However, since the current OIC Secretary General Iyad Ameen Madani is a Saudi, and has manifested pro –Saudi stances in supporting the Saudi led military actions in Yemen against the Houthi rebels in 2014, the partiality of OIC as an organization cannot be ruled out. For OIC to assume relevance again and for it to emerge as a conflict resolution forum, Pakistan can play a vital role. Being an eminent member of the OIC, with a sizable Sunni and Shiite population Pakistan can assume the role of a state mediator under the auspices of the OIC and work towards making peace between Iran and KSA.

Development of a mediatory posture is in the best interests of Pakistan. Forgoing impartiality and aligning either with Iran or with KSA is not a choice that Pakistan can afford to make. Alignment with Iran would mean breaching the trust of KSA, a state with whom Pakistan has ‘brotherly ties’ since long. On the other hand aligning with KSA would incessantly call for the invitation of tensions with the neighborly Iran, something that Pakistan cannot afford to bear since it is already engaged in dealing  with conundrums on the Eastern border with India, and on the Western border with Afghanistan. Moreover, siding with any of the two parties is going to brew sectarian rife in Pakistan, a country that has of 2015 seen a 7% increase in sectarian attacks compared to preceding years. The recurrent attacks on the Hazaras in Quetta or on the Shiite population elsewhere by Sunni militant groups is a manifestation of this grave fact.

Under these circumstances, Pakistan’s joining of the 34 nation military alliance of Muslim countries headed  by KSA against terrorism , an alliance of which Iran is not  a member of raises eyebrows over to the nature of the alliance and the ambiguity of Pakistan’s position in the conflict. Though it has been reiterated by Sartaj Aziz, the PM Advisor on Foreign Affairs that Pakistan’s position in the conflict is a neutral one, yet doubts still pervade various political and social quarters in Pakistan. The only panacea for Pakistan under the testing crisis is to mediate peace between Iran and KSA by cajoling them to come together for reconciliatory talks since Pakistan’s partial status in the conflict would only propel sectarian schism at home, a recourse that threatens the security of the state.