ISLAMABAD: Last week, US President Donald Trump finally ordered direct attacks against Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s regime in the wake of suspected chemical attack in the rebel held town that killed over 80 people and shook the entire world.
Trump did what his predecessor Barrack Obama could not. The direct intervention has put the US at odds with Russia, the main backer of Assad’s regime.
Pakistan may not have direct bearings of the evolving situation in Syria, but officials and former diplomats believe that the crises in the Middle East will certainly through another daunting foreign policy challenge for the country at a time when its recent move to allow a former army chief to lead a Saudi-led alliance is being questioned.
The current Syrian civil war, which began simply with pro-democracy protests back in 2011, has divided the key regional and international players.
Countries such as US, UK, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are supporting Syrian opposition groups to overthrow the current regime while Russia, China and Iran are in pro-Assad camp.
“And that’s the major challenge for Pakistan,” commented Ali Sarwar Naqvi, former Ambassador to Jordon. Naqvi said ensuring a delicate balance on Syria is a daunting task.
Since Syria has become the major battleground for proxy war between the regional and international players, Pakistan has maintained a position, many believe, is in line with Russia and Iran, something that is unusual considering Islamabad’s strong ties with Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Unlike Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, Pakistan has long been against the regime change through a foreign intervention.
“Pakistan is not taking sides. In fact our position is based on international law and principles of the UN,” Naqvi added explaining as to why Islamabad was against the regime change.
The former ambassador pointed out that current Syrian regime was recognised by the UN and hence Pakistan cannot say otherwise.
Another factor that compelled Pakistan to adopt this approach is to discourage practice of regime change through foreign intervention.
Pakistan fears that this will set a wrong precedent and in future other countries may also face the same fate.
Although, Pakistan has not yet given formal reaction to the US Tomahawk cruise missiles targeting Syrian airfield in western Syria, where it said the chemical weapons attack originated, informal interaction with officials suggested that Islamabad was not in favour of the ‘punitive strikes.’
One official said US conducted the attacks in haste since it was not yet clear who carried out the suspected chemical attacks. Syrian military has already denied and condemned the attacks that left over 80 people mostly children and women.
The official said US missile attack was not a solution to the problem. “At the end people of Syria are at the receiving ends be it through chemical or US missile attacks.
While Saudi Arabia, US and other western countries directly blamed Syrian regime and Russia for the chemical weapons attack, Pakistan condemned the incident but stopped short of blaming the Assad regime.
Foreign Office spokesperson Nafees Zakria said Pakistan, as party to chemical weapons convention, was strictly against the use of such weapons. “Use of chemical weapons by anyone is condemnable,” Zakria told The Express Tribune.
About Pakistan’s position on the Syrian situation, the spokesperson said Pakistan urged all parties to find a peaceful solution to the crises.
“Syrian people have suffered immensely and all parties should address to alleviate the Syrian people’s sufferings.”
Observers believe that Pakistan’s current policy on Syria will be tested if the ongoing crises lead to a larger conflict among the regional and international powers vying for their influence in the volatile Middle East.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 10th, 2017.