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A delicate balance

Updated Jan 06, 2016 08:43am


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Ominous clouds are forming over the Gulf and Pakistan — for a variety of reasons — we must find middle ground and not take sides in the brewing Saudi-Iranian conflict.

There was a cautious note in Sartaj Aziz’s words when he addressed the National Assembly on Tuesday regarding the issue.

A day earlier, the government had been criticised in parliament for failing to outline a clear policy on the Gulf crisis by members of various parties.

Also read: Opposition seeks definitive stance on Riyadh-Tehran spat

However, on Tuesday, the prime minister’s adviser on foreign affairs said Pakistan would work to reduce tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, along with working for “unity” within the Muslim world. In the current climate, this seems to be a sensible approach.

The Tehran-Riyadh row, which was sparked by the execution of senior Saudi Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr on Jan 2, and thereafter exacerbated by the storming of Saudi missions by protesters in Iran, shows no sign of being resolved soon.

In fact, on Tuesday, Kuwait recalled its ambassador from Tehran; earlier, following the Saudi lead, Bahrain and Sudan had snapped ties with the Islamic Republic. As the crisis escalates, there has been little in the form of proactive diplomacy from the international community to calm cross-Gulf tensions, apart from appeals for restraint.

Only Russia has offered to mediate. The UN must play a more visible role in cooling tempers as the Middle East cannot afford a Saudi-Iranian conflagration. As for where Pakistan stands, this country’s primary position should be that of neutrality.

Geographic, geopolitical and geoeconomic reasons — along with issues of religious sensitivities — dictate that Pakistan must not take sides in the rivalry. Of course, this is easier said than done. Pakistan has enjoyed good relations with Saudi Arabia for decades while the kingdom has been a major economic benefactor, which means the Saudis will be expecting Pakistan to return the ‘favours’.

However, Iran is a neighbour while this country also shares religious and cultural links with the Islamic Republic, hence antagonising Tehran would be equally unwise. While the Foreign Office has rightly condemned the storming of Saudi missions in Iran, there has been some speculation over Islamabad possibly downgrading diplomatic ties with Tehran. This would be inadvisable.

Should the opportunity arise, Islamabad can use its good offices to heal the rift between Riyadh and Tehran. To safeguard its internal communal harmony and stability, neutrality is the best choice for Pakistan to make.

The government seems to have adopted a logical approach to the crisis up till now. Let us hope — and the days ahead will tell, especially if the crisis escalates — that the state opts to stay the course and refrains from picking sides, regardless of the internal and external pressure to get involved. What is clear is that choosing favourites in an ugly confrontation will bring little benefit to this country.

Published in Dawn, January 6th, 2016


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Comments (43) Closed

Fahim Khan Jan 06, 2016 05:05am

Pakistan unfortunately already taking side of PML-N masters.

Government of Pakistan condemned the attack on embassy but forgot to condemn the cause which was "barbaric killing of innocent men". Embassy can be fixed but you cannot bring back any dead person.

Changez_Khan Jan 06, 2016 08:40am

Pakistan MUST stay neutral in KSA and Iran feud, not worth taking sides.

Aussie Jan 06, 2016 08:41am

pakistan should mind its own business and first clean up the local mess. first we got involved in US war and now walking to join Arab conflicts. kindly create jobs for pakistanis make health system for pakistan.

stop involving in others stuff with eventually will come back and bit us.

citizen Jan 06, 2016 08:42am

Iran is not giving employment, free/cheap oil, lump sum gifts, dosen't offer any business opportunities for elite, how we can support them?

Abbas Baloch Jan 06, 2016 08:53am

Actually Saudis and Iran both have plunged into the war of ego. Pakistan shouldn't go near this hive of bees as mediator or moderator because both the honourable countries are waving their elephantine trunks bombastically and in endeavour to sugar their pills Pakistan can pay an unforgettable price

Agha Ata Jan 06, 2016 08:54am

The problem is many important Pakistanis owe a lot to Saudi Arabia on a personal basis.

Manish Jan 06, 2016 09:17am

Long Live Saudi Pakistan friendship.

irfan Jan 06, 2016 09:20am

Yes Pakistan would only send thousands of its men and women to earn in Saudi Arabia, take financial facilities, take petrol at half the price for years but not support Saudi Arabia.

Canada Jan 06, 2016 09:32am

Thank you Mr. Author for being the voice of reason. Non-allignement is the best policy. Things were always sour between Irn-Sa but they really went downhill when not once but twice there were hajj tragedies. If Im not mistaken, coincidentally, Iran had the most victims+Saudi attack on Yemen killing many civilains+SA vocal opposition to Iran nuke deal. But here is the real problem, will Irn-Sa fight a full out proxy war in Syria and Iraq now? I think the US and Russia need to show leadership here.

Naveed Jan 06, 2016 09:41am

This is a very sad situation with two powerful Islamic countries severing ties. This is sad that no Islamic country came forward to reduce the tensions and play the much needed diplomatic role. Pakistan can play a very positive role and must pursue both sides to reduce tension

Shehzad Zafar Jan 06, 2016 09:42am

@Changez_Khan You go to job in GCC or Iran? when oppurtunity comes.

Saima Jan 06, 2016 09:43am

@Manish Never!

wellwisher Jan 06, 2016 09:52am

With crude prices falling drastically, US becoming net exporter of petro products, the power of K.S.Arabia has drastically reduced.It should behave like one

dawn Jan 06, 2016 10:03am

Time and again I ask Pakistan not to get involved like they did when USA summoned them. Even this spat (KSA/Iran) could be the doing of the west. They are not quite at ease with Iran and KSA is not complying to their requests.

Padmakar Jan 06, 2016 10:20am

Pakistan must adopt neutral stand between the struggle of only two powers of Islamic world.

Mahmood Jan 06, 2016 10:33am

Pakistan not only should remain neutral in this spat between KSA and Iran, but take the opportunity to assume the leadership role in the Muslim world. Not because its is the largest Muslim country, or the only Nuclear state in the Ummah, but due to its geographical location, and strategic interests and opportunities that lie ahead by maintaining good relations with both rivals.

Abdulla Hussain Jan 06, 2016 11:04am

It is prime duty for Pakistan to immediately start diplomatic shuttle between KSA & Iran to neutralize the the aggravated situation. It is time for Pakistan to play a big role to broker peace between the two Muslim countries. Nawaz Sharif should himself take lead.

Abbassin Jan 06, 2016 11:53am

How can one go and support the Saudi regime? remember that time and again they cannot or will not do things right and there are many examples, such as supporting Iraq of Sadam Hussain to attack Iran, their meddling in Yemen and Bahrain, funding the madrassah system in Pakistan, and the latest faux paus of including Pakistan in the coalition of 34 Islamic countries to fight ISIS-without even bothering to advise us, let alone get our consent. As for your reference of their help and monetary support to us-it is not a one-way street as you have made it, we have returned the favors in kind and then some. However, the point here is that given Pakistan’s special geopolitical status and location, we must play the role of an honest broker, to mediate this very serious spat between the two egocentric centers of power of the Muslim world.

Adeel Jan 06, 2016 12:31pm

Stay neutral, and keep an eye on the Pakistani citizens who for no reason are busy in propoganda on social media, we have to learn a lesson what happened in the countries like Syria or Iraq, so stay Pakistani and dont let this fire ruin our next generation's future.

Idealist Jan 06, 2016 12:35pm

Pakistanis should stay neutral in this mess, The policy should always be Pakistan first, It's an economic war first then anything else. We need good relations with Saudia for economic and business as well as we need to keep in mind to get as much business from Iran after the west lifts sanctions. Pakistan need some serious rational thinking here.

Abid.khan Jan 06, 2016 01:18pm

@Saima why ?.........

sachin Jan 06, 2016 01:53pm

Staying neutral has not got anyone anything. Moreover it is not possible. Pakistan should go for Iran as it is geographical brother and has potential for being significant resource partner in collaboration with China.

Suren Singh Sahni Jan 06, 2016 02:10pm

Sensible prescription

KAZIM REZA Jan 06, 2016 02:18pm

A delicate balance:In the Saudi-Iran spat, Pakistan must not take sides-Nothing to be commissioned no more omission,Dawn says all.If time demands more, the nation should pursue an aggressive neutrality which would pacify quickly both thorough national consciousness by the parliament.Georges Clemenceau says,"War is too important to be left to the generals."The polarization is much bigger than the magnitude of a conventional war.Pakistan among the nations is the most distinct country to take move for a peace deal. All other nations be it Islamic or not somehow has been some identified with previous ISIS polarization in last one year.

faryal Jan 06, 2016 02:24pm

neutrality is the best choice for Pakistan

malik humayoun Jan 06, 2016 02:25pm



Shakeel Jan 06, 2016 02:38pm

These two countries have spread poison around the Muslim world. Societies in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Mali, Nigeria, Libya, Yemen have been ruined and harm has come to hundreds of millions thanks to these two nations and their violent evangelical filth. Hopefully it will hit home soon, hopefully they will have to fight their war on their own turf.

Pakistan should shut up shop with both these countries and threaten to turn Riyadh and Tehran into glass if Pakistan is dragged into their conflict.

Ijaz Jan 06, 2016 02:40pm

@Mahmood The largest Muslim nation is Indonesia not Pakistan. In fact India has a larger Muslim population than Pakistan - lets not get ahead of ourselves

vrpatil Jan 06, 2016 03:13pm

Working for reducing tensions between any two fighting parties,is itself a greatest contribution to the welfare of mankind.

Qasim Jan 06, 2016 03:23pm

Agree 100% with the author.

Bravo Jan 06, 2016 03:43pm

@citizen : Do India and Afghanistan provide all this ?? this is not the criteria of good relationship. Speak some thing sensible. Iran must be dealt with care as we are already facing animosity from India and Afghanistan.

Alethia Jan 06, 2016 04:20pm

Pakistan must be neutral.

Nawaz,Zubair Jan 06, 2016 05:43pm

We hope that sense prevails and Pakistan stays out of this mess and does not take any sides. The best we can do is to participate in diplomatic efforts to resolve the differences between KSA and Iran peacefully.

Khoja Jan 06, 2016 07:19pm

Pakistan cannot, will not, will not be perceived, and should not stay neutral in this Shia-Sunni divide. Very tough position for Pakistan which it is unable to properly address because of Pakistan's weak political standing and powerless political leadership.

Pakistan First Jan 06, 2016 08:27pm

Al Sauods and Iranian both are threat to PAKISTAN .... Stay away from both countries

Pashtunyar Jan 06, 2016 08:41pm

@Changez_Khan The notion of staying neutral doesnt make any sense! For e.g, more than a million pakistanis work in gcc countries work im gcc countries earning precious foreign exchange for our country! On the other hand hardly any pakistanis work in iran! In a ideal world i would like pakistan to maintain strict neutrality but in the world of real politik pakistan should side with the saudis and gcc countries!

Hamaad Jan 06, 2016 08:50pm

Pakistan cannot afford to be a silent spectator in this circus. Agree with the author that Pakistan should use its good offices to bring the warring parties on table for long term peace.

ashar Jan 06, 2016 09:06pm

Stance of Iran is absolutely wrong. The Man was saudi citizen and he was executed as per the law of the land. What if a similar situation might arose in Iran with some sunni guy. I bet KSA took a long time Iran would not. Double Standard. Interesting that there are more than 25 % sunni in Iran and the way they are treated is absolutely contrary to the shias in Pakistan. Iran should avoid adding fuel to fire.

example Jan 06, 2016 09:37pm

thumbs up

Uzair Jan 06, 2016 10:36pm

Though pml n is staunch supporter of saudi monarchs , but its parliament supremacy which led to maintain a very balnce approach in dealing tehran-riyadh conflict , and expecting more to come after detailed parliamentary debate over this issue . Instead of just proclaiming itself as Neutral , Pakistan should play more active role in offering good offices and mediation to assuage tensions , or being neuttrality flag bearer would not country in its internal division between sheea suni population

Changez_Khan Jan 06, 2016 11:43pm


You have a very good and valid point. Fully support and agree with your comment.

ASHISH KUMAR Jan 07, 2016 08:28am

The diplomatic sanity requires that in such a row where the country in question is called up to show side, it should merely issue that "it hopes to see the tensions come to an early end". Thats it, nothing more nothing less. Foreign policy is the creature of breeding between double standards. Hence, of course, choosing the 'neutrality' should be the rational choice in a situation like this.

KA Jan 07, 2016 08:29am

NS cannot forget the hospitality of SA. It will be hard for Pakistan to stay neutral.