Pakistan has conveyed to the visiting Iranian foreign minister Saudi Arabia’s serious concerns about Tehran’s alleged backing of Yemeni Houthi rebels, who have overthrown the government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a close ally of Riyadh.
In a “candid” discussion with Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif informed the Iranian diplomat that Saudi Arabia believed that Tehran was meddling in the internal affairs of Yemen, an official told The Express Tribune on the condition of anonymity.
Zarif, who was on a two-day visit to Islamabad, on his part advised the Pakistani government not to get embroiled militarily in the Yemen conflict.
In a statement issued on Thursday, the prime minister said it was the shared responsibility of all states to refrain from actions that disturb peace and stability in any country – in what appears to be a clear reference to Iran’s alleged involvement in the Middle Eastern affairs.
He also emphasised that it was incumbent on all Muslim countries to use their influence to counsel restraint and promote a spirit of mutual accommodation.
The current conflict in Yemen is increasingly being seen as “power struggle” between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Pakistan and Turkey are pushing for a rapprochement between Tehran and Riyadh.
The prime minister expressed serious concerns at the deteriorating situation in Yemen, which he said, was so grave that it may endanger fellow Muslim countries. “Beside the loss of innocent lives, the crisis can undermine the unity of Muslim world,” the premier was quoted in the statement.
He also told the Iranian foreign minister that Pakistani people held Saudi Arabia in “high esteem” and would stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the Arab Kingdom if its territorial integrity was violated.
The PM’s statement can be seen as a message to Iran that Pakistan cannot ignore the importance of its ties with Saudi Arabia in the current situation. He also towed the Saudi line by expressing Pakistan’s concern about the overthrow of Yemen’s legitimate government by “non-state actors”.
The premier informed the Iranian minister of his efforts to promote peace in Yemen along with other Muslim countries. He hoped the leaderships of the Muslim countries recognise the continuing conflict in Yemen represents a serious threat to the Ummah and, therefore, they must work together to find a negotiated settlement.
The statement said Zarif agreed on the need to work toward an early settlement of the Yemeni conflict and presented his government’s perspective on exploring different options for resolving the crisis.
Zarif visits GHQ
In a significant development, the Iranian foreign minister also held talks with Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif in view of the Saudi demand for Pakistani military’s participation in the Yemen offensive. This was a rare instance of a senior Iranian official visiting the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi as Tehran has avoided such interactions with the Pakistani military in the past.
Diplomatic sources said the Iranian side had requested for a meeting with the army chief.
Insiders said Zarif briefed General Raheel about Iran’s perspective on the Yemeni issue and also suggested the Pakistani army should not become a part of the Saudi alliance.
An Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) statement confirmed the two officials discussed the current regional security, including evolving situation in the Middle East as well as Pak-Iran border management and defence and security cooperation between the two countries. “During the meeting, unity and integrity of the Ummah and greater harmony amongst Muslims was emphasised,” the statement read.
The Iranian foreign minister, who was also given a guard of honour, appreciated the achievements of the Pakistan Army in Zarb-e-Azb operations and paid tributes to the country’s sacrifices in bringing peace and stability in the region.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 10th, 2015.
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