ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has denied reports that it is deploying troops in Qatar in the wake of oil-rich country’s current standoff with other Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia.
A statement issued here by the foreign office on Sunday termed the reports appearing in some foreign media outlets about the deployment of Pakistani troops in Qatar as ‘completely fabricated and baseless.”
Foreign Office Spokesperson Nafees Zakaria stressed that "these false reports appear to be part of a malicious campaign aimed at creating misunderstanding between Pakistan and brotherly Muslim countries in the Gulf.”
Last week, Saudi Arabia along with several Gulf States severed diplomatic ties with Qatar after accusing it of supporting terrorist groups.
While Gulf countries vowed to isolate Qatar, Turkey decided to side with the oil-rich state by deploying troops there. Some foreign media outlets reported that Pakistan would also follow Turkey’s suit and deploy around 20,000 troops in Qatar.
The brewing crisis in the Gulf has put Pakistan in an awkward situation. Islamabad enjoys close ties both with Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Besides strong political ties, Pakistan has close economic cooperation with Gulf countries that are home to millions of Pakistanis who significantly contribute to the country’s economy in the form of foreign remittances.
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Therefore, Pakistan is trying to tread a careful path. At the last weekly briefing, when asked to explain Pakistan’s stance on the current unrest in the Gulf countries, the foreign office spokesperson said Pakistan was increasingly concerned at the development.
“Pakistan believes in unity among Muslim countries. We have made consistent efforts for its promotion. The situation, therefore, is a matter of concern,” Zakria stressed suggesting that the government would not take sides in a conflict that can have huge implications for the country.
Officials here said Pakistan was making efforts to play some kind of a role to defuse the crisis between Qatar and other Gulf countries.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is expected to undertake a visit to Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia as part of Pakistan’s diplomatic maneuvers to break the stalemate.
It is, however, not clear if Saudi Arabia is willing to reconcile and accept any mediation at this stage. Saudi Arabia has so far given a lukewarm response to efforts by Kuwait to mediate between Riyadh and Doha.
The evolving situation in the Gulf has added another dimension to already difficult situation Pakistan is facing when it comes to the Saudi-led counter-terrorism alliance.
Policymakers in Pakistan fear that if the situation worsens it would further compound the foreign policy challenges for the country.
“Therefore, we are concentrating on the mediation,” commented a senior foreign office official while requesting anonymity.
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Qatar is ready to listen to the concerns of Gulf Arab states that have cut diplomatic and economic ties, Kuwait said on Sunday, as it tried to mediate a solution to the worst regional crisis in years.
Saudi Arabia and allies Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) severed ties with Qatar last week, accusing it of supporting Islamist militants and arch-foe Iran - charges Doha denies.
The rift has disrupted travel, separated families, severed commercial links and sown confusion among banks and businesses while deepening divisions between their respective allies fighting in wars and political struggles from Libya to Yemen.
"(Kuwait) affirms the readiness of the brothers in Qatar to understand the reality of the qualms and concerns of their brothers and to heed the noble endeavours to enhance security and stability," Kuwait's state news agency KUNA quoted Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah as saying.
Kuwait, which has retained ties with Qatar and has often acted as a mediator in regional disputes, said it wanted to resolve the dispute "within the unified Gulf house".
A previous mediation effort by Kuwait in which the Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah shuttled between Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Doha, failed to achieve an immediate breakthrough.
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"Is this the beginning of wisdom and reasonable thinking? I hope so," UAE minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash wrote on Twitter in reaction to Kuwait saying Qatar was ready to listen to the grievances.
Morocco, a close ally of the Gulf countries, said on Sunday it would remain neutral and offered to facilitate dialogue.
"If the parties so wish, the Kingdom of Morocco is ready to offer its services to foster a frank and comprehensive dialogue on the basis of non-interference in internal affairs and the fight against religious extremism," a statement from the country's foreign ministry read.
Iran sent five planes of food exports to Qatar, Iran's national carrier told AFP, days after Gulf countries cut off air and transport links to the emirate.
"So far five planes carrying perishable food items such as fruit and vegetables have been sent to Qatar, each carrying around 90 tonnes of cargo, while another plane will be sent today," Iran Air spokesman Shahrokh Noushabadi said. (With additional input from agencies)