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Pakistan’s Role in Gulf Conflict

Iran and Saudi Arabia face a series of seemingly intractable disputes which can destabilize the entire region. Saudis think Iran of fueling discontent among Shiite communities in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Saudi Arabia also fears that Iran would export its revolution into the Gulf Arab monarchies and would incite rebellions among Shiite populations in Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Kuwait. Regarding nuclear program, Saudis believe that nuclear capability would give Iran a crucial strategic edge in the Persian gulf conflict.

The regime of Bashar al-Assad is Iran’s key ally, and a conduit for weapons that flow from Iran to Hezbollah via Damascus. To further isolate Iran, Saudi Arabia has extended diplomatic and financial support to Syria’s opposition. GCC countries have promised $10 billion to Bahrain and Oman over ten years to help the countries cope with consequences emerging out of gulf conflict. Recent actions and statements by the Bahrain government make it clear that they have no intention of loosening political controls or ceding to any of the demands raised by the massive pro democracy protests which took place early this year.

Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain recently withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar in a rare visible split between the Gulf Arab allies. The falling-out of the gulf conflict appears to be related to disagreements over Qatar’s stance on the political turmoil shaking much of the Middle East. The decision to withdraw diplomatic envoys was made because Qatar did not implement a security pact about non-interference in the internal affairs of the GCC states, a body set up in the 1980s as a counterweight to Iranian influence in the Gulf.

The move escalated an internal power struggle over foreign policy in the GCC, which also includes Kuwait and Oman, and represents a significant challenge for Qatar. Saudi Arabia has put its utmost struggle to build a closer union between the GCC countries on foreign and security policy in an effort to cement a united front against what it sees as Iranian aggression. Saudi Arabia, the biggest GCC state by population, size and economy, has grown increasingly frustrated over recent years at the efforts of Qatar, to leverage its large wealth from gas exports into regional clout.

Pakistan-Gulf defense relationship is almost as old as their political and diplomatic contacts. The joint statement at the end of Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz’s recent visit says “The two sides also agreed on the need to enhance bilateral cooperation in the field of defense”. This cooperation comes in many forms, including training of Saudi pilots by the Pakistan Air Force and the deployment of Pakistani troops to Saudi Arabia to provide security. Historically almost all of the GCC states depended heavily on Pakistan’s assistance in raising their defense and security forces. The recent Arab spring and subsequent incidents and their basic motives have given a chance to Gulf countries to come further close to Pakistan. Pakistan through its military and bilateral cooperation has always tried to shield these countries from various external and internal threats.

Pakistan’s relations with the Saudi Arabia should not be left to the statements of the amateur politicians who know nothing about the strategic importance with its dimension in our relations with Saudi Arabia. Our decision makers know very well the reasons which formed the recent agendas of Saudi Arabia towards Syria and Iran and, I think, they are acting quite carefully. The Syrian crisis is going to be a stumbling block, but it has become apparent that military solution is no longer feasible, and that there is a need for a negotiated settlement of gulf conflict for which Pakistan can play its role.

Boosting relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran can help bring peace and halt unrests in some regional countries and prevent spread of sectarian violence in the region. Iran should make expansion of relations with neighboring Muslim countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, a priority in the foreign policy. The opposition parties and media, however, did not move positively to help deal with the Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and unnecessarily criticized the financial aid extended by the Saudi Arabia. It is high time for Pakistan to deal with friendly GCC countries in terms Pakistan’s historic foreign relations and to confirm that the expansion of our relations with other countries will not be on the account of bilateral relations with friendly Gulf States.

It is enough our internal conflicts and we should not create more problems in foreign relations. Pakistan has always stayed away from intra-Arab and other disputes, and would do so even now and will offer whatever help it can extend to improve relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Pakistan has significant strategic interest in encouraging reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran. We are part of the region; we are not from far away.

Pakistan would advocate the settlement of differences between the two brotherly countries. On economic front, Pakistan would encourage Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Kuwait to invest in Pakistan, but also keep a share of their foreign deposits in Pakistani banks. We should top the interests over any ideologies in our relations with Gulf States. It is difficult for Pakistan to lose its strategic depth in search for a conflict arena. We should work with our partners across the region. We should never forget history, instead we should always learn from it.

Shaukat Masood Zafar
Shaukat Masood Zafar
A well known freelance columnist writing for daily Pakistan Observer, and several other national and international websites and newspapers. Economy, Politics, and Agricultural & Rural Development are especially areas of his interest.


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