Pakistan on Monday urged Saudi Arabia and Iran to open their channels of communication to defuse tensions, as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif kicked off diplomatic efforts to mediate between the two key Muslim countries.
In the first leg of their crucial trip to Saudi Arabia and Iran, Premier Nawaz and Gen Raheel held talks in Riyadh with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz to discuss options and proposals to prevent further deterioration in ties between the two countries.
Tensions have been on the rise between Saudi Arabia and Iran ever since the execution of leading Shia cleric Nimr al Nimr by Riyadh earlier this month. The Saudi move led to the storming of its diplomatic missions in Iran. The two countries then severed their diplomatic ties. Some other Arab countries also cut off ties with Iran.
A senior official told The Express Tribune that Pakistan cautioned that the rift between Saudi Arabia and Iran was weakening the Muslim Ummah. Expressing concerns over the worsening ties between Riyadh and Tehran, both the premier and the army chief shared Pakistan’s perspective on the current tensions in the Middle East.
They requested the Saudi leadership to open the channel of communication with Iran to prevent the situation from going from bad to worse.
The official said Premier Nawaz and Gen Raheel suggested that the Saudi leadership explore the possibility of restoring diplomatic contact with Iran. “[Pakistan’s] first priority is to convince [Saudi Arabia and Iran] to sit across the table.”
This was the message the premier conveyed to King Salman, but it is yet not clear if Saudi Arabia is willing to accept Pakistan’s request.
A joint statement issued after the meeting said the Saudi king appreciated the Pakistani leadership’s initiative and observed that the oil-rich kingdom had always strived to promote brotherhood among Muslim countries.
“The prime minister expressed Pakistan’s deep concern on the recent escalation of tensions between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran,” added the communiqué.
PM Nawaz has called for early resolution of differences through peaceful means, in the larger interest of the Ummah, particularly during these challenging times. He recalled Pakistan’s consistent policy of promoting brotherhood among member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. Pakistan has always expressed its readiness to offer its good offices to brotherly Muslim countries for resolution of their differences through dialogue and reconciliation, said the premier.
The premier and the army chief will travel to Tehran on Tuesday (today) as part of Pakistan’s efforts to find some way out of the Saudi-Iran rift. Pakistan is trying to strike a balance, as it does not want to annoy either country by taking sides. They will also brief the Iranian leadership on Pakistan’s decision to join the Saudi-led coalition of Islamic countries against terrorism and extremism. Iran views the Saudi initiative with suspicion, though Islamabad has already made it clear that it had joined the coalition because it was meant to fight terrorism and was not against any specific country.
During the meeting with the Saudi monarch, the premier and the army chief discussed various facets of enduring cooperation regarding the Saudi initiative of forming the coalition. “Pakistan deeply appreciates the Saudi initiative and assured the kingdom of its support,” the statement said.
The premier reiterated that the people of Pakistan would always stand with the people of Saudi Arabia against any threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the kingdom.
The two sides also discussed regional and global issues of common concerns. They agreed that both the countries would work together to defeat their common enemy: terrorism and extremism.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 19th, 2016.