A complex relationship

There are clear and objective risks in the moves that Pakistan is making

Editorial April 25, 2017

Pakistan today is arguably at the centre of a set of international relations more complex than at any time in the nation’s history. How events play out in the coming months and years is going to determine the quality of life in every respect for millions in the coming decade. Much of the focus has been on the developments surrounding the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) but the picture is far wider than this. The relationship with both Saudi Arabia and Iran are vital to a swathe of interests, and the decision to join the proposed Saudi-led military alliance has not been taken lightly. Some clarity is emerging as to why the decision was made, and the hope is that there is an opportunity to act as a broker of peace in the Islamic world, and specifically work with Saudi Arabia and Iran at a rapprochement of these two diametrically opposed states.

Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf has paid a visit to Riyadh in March, and he is scheduled to visit Tehran in the coming days. The scale of the task ahead appears to be understood. The appointment of General (retd) Raheel Sharif (on a Saudi invitation) is a cog in the delicate diplomatic machinery with the potential to blow up in the face of Pakistan by antagonising Iran. It now transpires that a condition of the appointment was that such a rapprochement would be sought and that if the Saudi alliance was in any way shown to be sectarian in nature then Pakistan reserved the right to withdraw. This is precisely the greatest concern of the Iranians who are supporters of the Houthi rebels in Yemen who are fighting the forces of Saudi Arabia. That conflict is sectarian in nature and it is not difficult to see why there are shared anxieties.

There are clear and objective risks in the moves that Pakistan is making but there is also the potential for multiple positive outcomes — more winners than losers with the aggregate effect of a regional lowering of tensions. We support these moves, but urge that all concerned tread with the greatest of care.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 25th, 2017.

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