I tend to begin by quoting from Mohammed Hanif’s recent heart rending column “Pakistan’s needless martyrs” carried by “International New York Times” on January 22: “Last week Pakistan’s prime minister and army chief were seen huddled together in a plane on their way to Saudi Arabia and then Iran. As the rulers of the sole Muslim nuclear power in the world, they were on a mission to bring peace to the region. Maybe they should lower their expectations at home. Maybe they should try to ensure that when children go to school and university they don’t become martyrs. The political and military elites of Pakistan are fond of reminding everyone at every opportunity that the country’s nuclear assets are safe. Could they one day make the same claim about our schoolchildren?”
Pakistan is undertaking a difficult mission to diffuse tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has a natural inkling for this sort of enterprise—indeed a romance. Theoretically it seem all too simple, however, practically it touches the boundary of Mission Impossible. Saudi arrogance and Iranian shrewdness both are equally unsurmountable and impenetrable, presenting may be only a shade of difference as far as their handling difficulty is concerned. Prime Minister’s recent visit to these two countries may only be a beginning of an arduous diplomatic undertaking.
Nevertheless, credit goes to Pakistani leadership for taking timely initiative that bore fruit as both Riyadh and Tehran were simultaneously receptive to the reconciliation efforts. Pakistan enjoys close and multi-dimensional relations with both Saudi Arabia, and Iran and therefore, its anguish over the brewing tension between the two Muslim countries is understandable. It is also a fact that despite their mutual differences on various issues, both of them strongly support cause of Pakistan’s various core national interests at regional and international forums; and therefore; text book neutrality is not a practical option whenever there is a tension between these two brotherly countries.
During the visit to Saudi Arabia, Nawaz Sharif met King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz, who assured that if Tehran shows positive signs, diplomatic ties may be restored. A list of points given to the Pakistani leadership for discussion with Iran’s leadership has been handed over to Iran, the response was positive. Iran has publically indicated a stand down from previously maintained higher pedestal, the crisis stands averted—at least for the time being.
Some analysts hold opinion that Pakistani mediation efforts were an initiative from Islamabad; while others say it was requested by Saudi Arabia.
There are reasons to support both these notions. Pakistan has a history of undertaking such missions and that Saudis did not expect such a high profile reaction by Tehran over killing of a Saudi cleric of Shia orientation. Tehran had also cumulated quite a frustration about Saudis over various reasons—especially 34-nation military alliance of Muslim countries—ostensibly against terrorism—which did not include Iran, thus leaving it ponder that it could be employed against Tehran on one pretext or the other. Thus Tehran had a reason to be on a tenterhook to vent its feeling for which Saudis provided a good reason and occasion. Tehran added escalation when it failed to protect Saudi diplomatic missions from rioting mobs. This led to Riyadh quickly severing diplomatic ties with Tehran.
This said and done, though both had over reacted, they were equally inclined to ease the escalation and were looking for a reason for a climb down; and Pakistan’s initiative provided good excuse for both to do that; it became a good starting point for Iran. Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei publicly condemned the January 2 attack on Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Tehran as “a very bad and wrong incident”. “Like the British embassy attack before it, this was against the country (Iran) and Islam, and I didn’t like it,” he added. “There is no threat coming from Iran to any of its neighbours…and are prepared to engage with confidence-building measures with our neighbours.” Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif said while speaking at a panel on Iran’s future at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Will there be a war? “No. I think our Saudi neighbours need to realize that confrontation is in the interest of no body,” he added.
“I believe Sharif’s efforts are of his own,” Saudi analyst Khalid Al Maeena told Gulf News. “Because Pakistan is very close to Saudi Arabia, and has historically had friendly relations with Iran,” he added. Other Saudi political scientists expressed a similar view. “Turkey has offered its mediation and so have Russia and Pakistan… but Saudi Arabia has not announced any position on any of these offers,” said academic and writer Khalid Al Dakheel. “You know that Russia has Germany wants to work with Iran to help calm regional conflicts now that the Islamic Republic is emerging from international isolation and also prevent tension escalating with Saudi Arabia, Germany’s foreign minister said.
Now, after visit of the Prime Minister to Saudi Arabia and Iran, a decision has been taken that Pakistan would appoint a focal person to carry forward the reconciliation process and Saudi Arabia and Iran would also be doing the same. Hopefully, this would be done without losing any time so that an amicable solution is found to defuse the tension between two influential members of the Islamic world. As per declaration of the Prime Minister, the two countries have welcomed Pakistan’s peace efforts and have assured Nawaz Sharif that they harbour no animosity against each other. This means that they are willing to sort out their differences and this is what people of Pakistan and the Islamic Ummah expect from them.
Preliminary breakthrough of the Pakistani mission proves that given goodwill and determination, nothing is impossible. Earlier too, on several occasions, Pakistan has made similar efforts to sort out things in the Islamic world and has succeeded. The role being played by Pakistan is commensurate with its stature and position in the comity of the world and it should continue to use its influence for greater harmony and good of the Ummah. This role is also in line with constitutional guidelines for the foreign policy.
There are multiple ongoing attempts to redraw the map of the Middle East, Arab Spring was believed to be part of that sinister design that destabilized several Arab and African countries, most of these attempts were capped half way as undesired results outweighed the desired dividends. Certainly, due to proximity factor, Pakistan cannot remain oblivious to the fallout and spill over of the effects of happenings in the Middle East.
External threats and internal political conflicts confronting Muslims are being compounded by design while others confronting non-Muslims are being sorted out at the level of the UN or through combination of good offices of the UN and positive engagement by the powerful countries. Whenever there is an effort to resolve the ongoing conflicts of Muslim countries these are settled in a way to sow the seed of permanent instability—Iraq and now Syria. Several ungovernable principalities are being encouraged to pop-up, out of the existing Muslim states with an objective to later-on legitimize these as states. Conspiracies are being hatched to destabilize others by frequent mention of their ethno-sectarian fault-lines. Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan are in turmoil and there are reasons to believe that Turkey is being pushed towards instability. Reducing Saudi Arabia and Iran to Middle Eastern pygmies is also one of many propositions of how the greater Middle East is envisaged to look like somewhere in the middle of current century.