Pakistan finds itself in a fix over its support for a regime change in volatile Syria. The move has angered Iran, while drawing support and encouragement from Saudi Arabia.
As Syria descends further into chaos, the Saudi king has scheduled a summit of leaders from the Islamic world this month, where President Asif Ali Zardari is scheduled to represent Pakistan.
The Alawite regime in Syria, led by President Bashar al Assad, is considered to be one of Iran’s crucial allies in the Middle East, while Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Sunni Arab states, backed by the United States, are making efforts to see the ouster of the beleaguered government there.
This equation, according to diplomatic sources, presents a daunting task for Pakistan striving to maintain the delicate balance in its relationship with both Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Sources said that Iran was unhappy with Pakistan’s support for a recent UN Security Council resolution against the Syrian regime. The move indicated Islamabad’s stance on an issue that could have far-reaching implications.
Tehran also voiced its displeasure through diplomatic channels on Pakistan’s participation in the upcoming extraordinary summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
A key point on the agenda of the Saudi-convened OIC moot is to garner support of member states from across the Muslim world for a regime change in Syria.
“This OIC summit is a US-backed Saudi initiative to isolate Iran,” said Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed, Jinnah fellow at the Oxford University, London.
Reports indicate that the US along with Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other Sunni Arab countries are backing the Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels fighting the Assad regime.
“If efforts were aimed at seeking regime change through force then we need to be very careful.” Dr Ishtiaq added.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Foreign Office official said Islamabad had backed the recent resolution by the UN Security Council after its main demands were met.
The official explained that Pakistan has made it clear that it will not support any military intervention. However, Islamabad is under pressure from Saudi Arabia to adopt a clearer stance on Syria. Sources said that recently Riyadh released $100 million in grant money for Islamabad, in what appears to be a way to lure Pakistan into supporting Saudi efforts.
President Zardari not only willingly accepted the invitation last week to attend the conference but his media office also issued a statement praising the role of King Abdullah as a ‘visionary’ leader in the Muslim world.
To allay Iran’s concerns, his associates said, the president sent Senate Chairman Syed Nayyer Bokhari to Tehran to assure Iranian leaders that Pakistan might not go too far in supporting the Saudi plans.Meanwhile, policymakers in Islamabad fear Pakistan would have to bear the brunt of any future Arab-Iran conflict in the form of segmentation of its society on sectarian lines.
“We need a balanced and workable approach to avoid any negative fallout from the ongoing situation,” said one official.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th, 2012.