Is Pakistan’s Discontent with Saudi Arabia Genuine?

Sunday, June 25, 2017


Hesamoddin Hojjatzadeh
Doctoral Student and Expert on Indian Subcontinent and Central Asia

A recent summit meeting in Riyadh, which was attended by heads of state and other high-ranking officials from about 55 Muslim countries, was held with the goal of establishing the so-called “Arab NATO” or in other words, the “Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT).” The meeting, which was held in May 2017, was led by Saudi Arabia and had firm support of the US President Donald Trump. Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic of Iran has declared its clear opposition to what it calls the Saudi – American reading of the concept of terrorism. Now, the question is will possible discontent of Pakistan with Saudi Arabia due to alleged snubbing of its prime minister in Riyadh meeting have any impact on the future outlook of Pakistan’s relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia?

Accepting the command of the aforesaid military alliance, which has come to be known as the Arab NATO, by former Chief of Army Staff of the Pakistan Army, General Raheel Sharif, on the one hand, and Pakistan’s participation in the Riyadh summit, which was pivoted around Iranophobia, on the other hand, have enraged Iran. According to some unconfirmed reports by Arab media, Iran has been mounting enormous pressure on political and military officials in Pakistan through its ambassador in Islamabad to convince them to change their mind about General Sharif assuming the leadership of a military coalition, whose approach is overtly anti-Iran. But what has been Pakistan’s reaction to claims about Iran’s pressures?

During the past two months, some government officials in Pakistani have frequently claimed that their country posed no threat to Tehran and they were just trying to forge some form of “balance” in their relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia. However, the existing trend effectively refutes such claims. Presence of Nawaz Sharif, who has a long record of personal friendship and trade ties with Saudis, as Pakistan’s prime minister is a reason behind Pakistan’s excessive inclination toward Saudi Arabia. Therefore, it is hard to believe that Pakistan’s prime minister has been snubbed by Saudi regime’s officials and other participants during the Riyadh meeting and has been isolated. Even if this is the case, it does not necessarily mean that Pakistan’s positions will get close to those of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It also seems unlikely that the army and government of Pakistan will sacrifice financial and security interests that they will have through conclusion of economic and military deals with Saudi Arabia for more cordial relations with Tehran.

Another issue is the allegation about General Raheel Sharif planning to quit his post as the commander of the “Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism.” There have been allegations that he is planning to quit the command of the alliance due to the United States’ interventions, but these allegations have not been confirmed by any reliable source, save for Pakistani media. Even if true, it cannot be good news for Iran, because after the Pakistani general quits, the Arab NATO would not be dissolved. At any rate, the United States and Saudi Arabia will find another general from Pakistan or another Muslim country to replace him and promote their goals in the region, including containment of Iran or reducing its regional clout.

On the other hand, there is a hypothesis about Iran's role in convincing General Sharif to quit, which cannot be easily ignored. If this hypothesis were true, it would be a major achievement for Tehran’s regional diplomacy. The problem, however, is that no source or media outlet in Iran or even elsewhere in region, which usually follow up on and disclose such information, has ever pointed to Iran's role in what has been called disillusionment of the Pakistani commander of the Arab NATO alliance. Meanwhile, positions taken against Iran by General Sharif during his term as commander of the Pakistani army reduce to a minimum the possibility of him giving in to Tehran’s pressures or proposals.

As Pakistani journalist, Ahmed Quraishi, has said in an article in Pakistan Daily, this issue has nothing to do with Iran and making such decision by Sharif is a domestic issue only related to Pakistan, though it has direct impacts on Iran's security environment. Therefore, it seems that such reports are solely made up by some government officials and security agencies in Pakistan and also by Saudi elements, who have infiltrated Pakistani media with great influence, with the goal of intensifying anti-Iran atmosphere in Pakistan.

At the same time, it can be noted that there are a host of other issues, which play a role in inciting a new wave of Iranophobia. Among these issues one can mention an increasing and common concern among some Pakistani groups, regional Arab states and the United States about Iran's proactive regional and international diplomacy following the nuclear deal with the P5+1 group of countries; increasingly friendly ties between Iran and India and close cooperation between the two countries in economic, political, security and defense fields in past years and months, including for the establishment of peace in Afghanistan and building a transportation corridor between India and Central Asia through Iran. Such developments are not welcomed by some Arab states in the southern part of the Persian Gulf and the US President Donald Trump's administration, because both these sides want to see Iran more isolated both at regional and global levels.

Last but not least, if Pakistan seeks peaceful coexistence with Iran, instead of echoing anti-Iran claims and working with any anti-Iran plans concocted by Saudi Arabia and the United States, it would be better for Islamabad to recognize the Islamic Republic of Iran's sovereignty and national security. For many years, Pakistan and Iran have used each other’s strategic depth in order to meet their security interests. Therefore, Pakistan can present a clear plan to prevent infiltration by sectarian terrorists into southeastern parts of Iran while boosting its economic and security relations with Iran.


*More by Hesamoddin Hojjatzadeh:
*Pakistan’s Security Approaches: Reasons and Consequences:


*Photo Credit: Tribune

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.

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