Experts in favour of Pakistan’s mediation efforts in the Gulf

A speaker warn a US influence could prevent any breakthrough

Ambassador to the United States Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry. PHOTO: FILE

Foreign policy experts on Thursday noted that the geopolitical environment was favouring Pakistan’s initiative for mediation in the Persian Gulf, but called for cautious optimism about the prospect of success.

These views were expressed at a round table conference titled ‘Mediation in the Persian Gulf: Initiatives, Strategies and Obstacles’ hosted by Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI), an Islamabad based think tank, on the eve of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s upcoming mediation trip to Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The discussion was attended by a large number of retired diplomats, ex-military officers, members of academia, and representatives of think tanks and members of civil society.

Former foreign secretary Aizaz Chaudhry said that despite huge obstacles including the massive mistrust between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and regional power play, Pakistan was the best-suited country for such a role because of its strong credentials with both countries. He emphasised that the geopolitical environment was conducive for the effort, no matter how little space was available for making progress.

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He proposed that PM Imran Khan should warn leaders of both countries about the consequences of war, not just for the two countries, but for the larger region and the world at large; seek a minimum common agenda on which the effort could be taken forward; offer to host a summit or a senior leadership meeting of both countries in Pakistan; and renew good offices to both countries.

Pakistan’s former ambassador to Iran Asif Durrani observed that good sense had prevailed with Saudi Arabia after realizing that the war in Yemen was not going their way even after four years. He emphasised the need for confidence-building measures between Iran and Saudi Arabia for the peace effort to progress. He called on the Iranian government to build trust with Riyadh by addressing its concerns with respect to Houthis in Yemen.

Prof Dr Qandeel Abbas said there was a need to change the narrative about Iran – Saudi conflict from a sectarian one to that of power contestation in which both countries were trying to secure their interests. This, he believed, would help in resolving the dispute.

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Arab Affairs Analyst Ali Mehr was sceptical about the mediation initiative and said that Imran Khan could at the best play the role of a messenger between the two countries. He warned about the US role and influence on Saudi Arabia saying it could prevent any breakthrough in the initiative.

Mehr suggested that the prime minister’s efforts should be exclusively focused on finding some solution to the Yemen war. He further proposed that Pakistan should join hands with Iraq and Oman to make more of an effort to encourage reconciliation between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

IPI Executive Director Prof Sajjad Bokhari said Pakistan, which has legitimate political, economic and security interests in the region, cannot remain completely removed from the effects of developments in the Middle East. Therefore, it is important that Pakistan’s interests be secured in the face of unpredictable circumstances by working for peace in the region.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 11th, 2019.

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