Pakistan Prefers Iran Ties Over Saudi War on Yemen

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Interview with Pir-Mohammad Mollazehi, Expert on Indian Subcontinent & Middle East Issues

In the following interview with Khabaronline news website, Pir-Mohammad Mollazehi, an expert on Indian Subcontinent, has explained why the Pakistani parliament recently said no to Saudi Arabia’s call on Islamabad to take part in Riyadh’s war on Yemen.

Q: Pakistan has been always an ally and supporter of Saudi Arabia and Riyadh reckoned highly on Islamabad during its recent onslaught on Yemen. Why Pakistani parliament flatly turned down Saudi Arabia’s request?

A: In reality, relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are very close. Pakistan had already signed agreements with Saudi Arabia, under the rule of the country’s former president, Parvez Musharraf, according to which Pakistan contributed military forces to Saudi royal guard. Pakistani forces were actually part of Saudi forces. Of course, the agreement was called off later.

At present, a careful review of the existing situation will show that Saudi Arabia is implementing plans in Yemen, which have lead to some form of religious war between Shias and Sunnis. Saudi Arabia sees a Shia coalition before it, which consist of Iran, Lebanese Hezbollah movement, Iraq and Syria. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia is trying to forge a coalition against Iran using Sunni countries in the region. Countries like Pakistan and Turkey are among very important regional states, and Saudi Arabia is trying to incorporate them into its Sunni coalition in order to further strengthen that coalition. Pakistan has very close relations with Saudi Arabia, both in economic terms, and from political and military viewpoints. However, Islamabad is not willing to sacrifice its own expediencies and security interests for the ambitions of Al Saud and we clearly saw in the case of Yemen that it did not do this.

From the viewpoint of Pakistan, entering a war with an uncertain future outlook, which only fans the flames of sectarian strife in the region, is not expedient. This is important to Pakistan, because religious fabric of this country is not harmonious. About 25 percent of Pakistanis are Shias, who also make up part of the army. Therefore, it was very important to Pakistani officials to adopt an approach, which would not harm their national interests.

Q: So, you believe that the negative answer given to Saudi Arabia by Pakistani parliament in the case of Yemen is mostly rooted in internal issues of Pakistan?

A: Yes, those issues that have been instrumental in this regard can be divided into two broad categories:

Firstly, by sending troops to Yemen, Pakistan’s domestic problems would have become more complicated and it might even led to sectarian war in the country.

Secondly, due to the neighborhood of Pakistan with Iran and considerable security and economic relations between the two sides, Islamabad has also considered these factors into account when making the decision on Yemen.

In fact, they reached the conclusion that the importance and value of their neighborhood with Iran should not be sacrificed for an uncertain war by joining the Saudi-led coalition. They were aware that alignment with Saudi Arabia’s goals will inflame Shia-Sunni sectarian differences. I believe that the Pakistani parliament acted with due vigilance in this regard and [Pakistani Prime Minister] Mr. Nawaz Sharif handled this case in an informed manner. He already knew the result of the parliamentary voting and knew what would be its result. Therefore, despite the fact that during his time in exile, Nawaz Sharif lived in Saudi Arabia and had very close relations with leaders and security officials of this country, when it came to the national interests of Pakistan, he preferred the national interests of his country over those of Saudi Arabia.

On the other hand, there were a number of other reasons that prompted Pakistani parliament to make this decision.

Firstly, Pakistan is not willing to get involved in a case, which may fan the flames of a sectarian war because the crisis may easily spill over into Pakistan and push the country toward the brink of collapse.

Secondly, helping Saudi Arabia would have caused problems in relations between Islamabad and Tehran and maintaining amicable relations with Iran is very important to Pakistan.

Thirdly, according to international regulations, Pakistan did not have a good ground to justify its participation in a military assault on Yemen.

Q: Has a recent trip to Islamabad by Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his meeting with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had any influence on Pakistan’s decision?

A: It was not ineffective. However, in reality, even if Dr. Zarif had not visited Pakistan, the country would not have accepted Saudi Arabia’s request to take part in Yemen war. At any rate, Zarif’s visit was certainly effective because it provided Pakistani officials with an opportunity to hear about Iran's stances on this issue directly from the Iranian foreign minister. This was enough to convince even those Pakistani lawmakers, who had a positive view of Saudi Arabia, to accept that the national interests of their country would be put in danger if they answered positive to Saudi Arabia’s call.

Q: Afghanistan is also a neighboring of Iran and some of the realities you explained about Pakistan also apply to Afghanistan. So, why Afghan President Ashraf Ghani explicitly supported Saudi Arabia’s aggression against Yemen?

A: Pakistani leaders are seasoned and experienced politicians and unlike Mr. Ghani, they are not newcomers in the world of politics. Therefore, they do not deal with politics in an emotional way. Under the existing conditions in Afghanistan and in view of doubts that surround Saudi attack on Yemen, Afghan officials were expected to take a passive stance. Analysts inside Afghanistan are wondering why Ashraf Ghani adopted a position which is against the national interests of his country. Even Afghan print media have shown reaction to this issue and it is quite clear that they are not content with Afghan president’s measures. However it should not be forgotten that the ideas of the Taliban are dominant in many parts of Afghanistan and the Taliban, in turn, have very close relations with Saudi Arabia. Perhaps, Ashraf Ghani has been trying to curry favor with them. For many years, the Taliban have availed themselves of the financial and cultural support of Saudi Arabia and that situation still continues. Such a position [that has been taken by Afghan president] is not in favor of Afghanistan. The country should have adopted an impartial approach. I believe that Afghan leaders lack enough political experiences and have made a hasty decision under the existing circumstances. They should have made a decision, which would not have a negative impact on domestic and regional relations of their country and would not cause them more problems. In fact, Ashraf Ghani announced that if Saudis attacked Yemen, Kabul will stand by Riyadh. However, he never explicitly supported Saudi Arabia’s military aggression against its southern neighbor. The decision showed that Afghan officials had made a purely sentimental and hasty decision, which is at odds with the interests of Afghanistan and will cause their country problems at three domestic, regional and international levels.

Key Words: Pakistan, Iran, Saudi War on Yemen, Shia-Sunni Sectarian Differences, Nawaz Sharif, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, Mollazehi

Source: Khabaronline
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

More By Pir-Mohammad Mollazehi:

*Afghanistan and Mental Construct of Power:

*Afghanistan: Unaccomplished Mission, Uncertain Future:

*New Afghan Government and Prospects for Future Iran-Afghanistan Cooperation:

*Photo Credit: Jam News

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