ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has told Saudi Arabia it will not take sides in the brewing diplomatic crisis in the Middle East after Riyadh asked Islamabad “are you with us or with Qatar”.
The Saudi demand for Pakistan to take a clear position on Qatar came during a meeting between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, diplomatic sources told The Express Tribune.
Premier Sharif, who was also accompanied by army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and other senior officials, dashed to Jeddah on Monday to discuss the emerging situation in the Arab world.
Pakistan has been treading a careful path since Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries snapped diplomatic ties with Qatar after accusing the oil-rich country of supporting terrorist groups.
But now Riyadh wants Islamabad to side with the kingdom as it ramped up efforts to isolate Qatar.
A senior government official, who was briefed on the talks at the monarch’s palace in Jeddah, told The Express Tribune that the Pakistani side told the Saudi leadership that Islamabad would support any efforts to foster unity among the Muslim Ummah. However, Pakistan would not take sides in any event that would create divisions within the Muslim world.
Nevertheless, in order to placate Saudi Arabia, Pakistan offered to use its influence over Qatar to defuse the situation. For this purpose, the prime minister will undertake visits to Kuwait, Qatar and Turkey.
Another official familiar with the development explained that Pakistan would only complement efforts of Kuwait to defuse the crisis in the Arab world instead of playing the role of a direct mediator between Qatar and other Gulf countries. The official said Pakistan was not directly mediating between Qatar and Saudi Arabia at this stage.
“This is primarily an issue among the Gulf countries and we hope they resolve the issue by themselves,” the official said while requesting not to be quoted on record because of the sensitivity of the issue. The official added if efforts of Kuwait and other regional countries could not succeed, then other Muslim countries, including Pakistan and Turkey, were always there to facilitate.
At this stage, Pakistan is only complementing efforts of Kuwait. For this purpose, the prime minister is likely to travel to Kuwait, which is currently spearheading efforts seeking de-escalation of tensions between Qatar and other Gulf countries.
The official also explained that the prime minister’s visit to Saudi Arabia was also part of a ‘goodwill gesture’ in the wake of speculations that Pakistan was sending troops to Qatar.
“The false media reports gave the impression as if we are taking sides in the ongoing crisis in the Gulf,” the official said.
Meanwhile, a statement issued by the Foreign Office on Tuesday said that during meeting with King Salman, Premier Sharif expressed the hope that the current impasse in the Gulf would be resolved soon in the best interest of the Muslim Ummah.
While expressing solidarity with the kingdom and the people of Saudi Arabia, the prime minister said the kingdom had a very special place in the hearts of Pakistanis and that the Muslim world looked up to the monarch as the custodian of the two Holy Mosques.
“The prime minister reaffirmed the strong commitment of the people and the government of Pakistan for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the kingdom, and the safety of Harmain al Shareifain,” the statement said.
King Salman, according to the statement, thanked the prime minister for his visit and recalled the special nature of relationship between the kingdom and Pakistan ever since its independence. King Salman also said that the fight against extremism and terrorism was in the interest of all Muslims and the Ummah.
He also appreciated the exceptional successes of Pakistan against extremism and terrorism, despite the challenging situation and environment, and reiterated the kingdom’s strong commitment and support for all issues of interest for Pakistan, including matters of its national security.
Meanwhile, leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Khursheed Shah claimed that the prime minister’s visit to Saudi Arabia could not achieve the desired results and hence no joint statement was issued.
Speaking to reporters, he demanded that the government clarify the role of former army chief General (retd) Raheel Sharif in the Saudi-led counter terrorism alliance in the wake of ongoing developments.