- PM Nawaz Sharif, COAS Raheel Sharif to visit Saudi Arabia and Iran on Monday to help defuse standoff
- Sources say Islamabad has decided not to remain ‘neutral’ in crisis
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif will be embarking on a visit to Saudi Arabia and Iran from Monday to defuse tension between the two countries that spiralled after the execution of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia.
It seems Islamabad has finally decided not to remain “neutral’ in the Saudi-Iran row and rather it has decided to adopt a ‘balanced’ position.
However observers believe that as a mediator, Pakistan would likely favour Riyadh which is a long-term ally of Pakistan and has always stood by Islamabad through thick and thin. On the contrary, Iran has been closer to New Delhi in most of the instances in the recent past.
While Pakistan is trying to reach out to Riyadh and Tehran for lowering tensions, Chinese President Xi Jinping would also be visiting the same destinations on Tuesday with a similar agenda.
While China is the biggest oil importer from Gulf countries to help meet its growing energy needs, Pakistan has also expanded its strategic military outreach into the Gulf waters, which carries around 90 percent of the world oil trade.
With upgradation of Gwadar Port, Pakistan and China would become major regional partners in the trade with Gulf states and Pakistan Navy has setup its bases at Ormara, Gwadar, Pasni and Jewani to ensure security of its coastal areas.
An official source confirmed to Pakistan Today that the top civilian and military leaders would pay a day-long visit to Iran and Saudi Arabia on Jan 18.
“Meetings with Saudi King Salman and President Hasan Rouhani have been confirmed,” the source added.
“Prime Minister’s advisers Sartaj Aziz and Tariq Fatemi are likely to accompany the PM during the trip,” the source said.
“It seems as Prime Minister Nawaz and General Raheel Sharif are on the same page as far as the foreign policy of the country is concerned. It seems that the prime minister has tilted towards the GHQ while the COAS has also made some adjustments to accommodate the PM’s priorities,” the source added.
The source said that following the PM and COAS’s decision to jointly visit the two countries, the scheduled visit of Defence Minister Khawaja Asif to both countries has been scrapped.
Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, the chairman of Senate’s foreign relations committee, appreciated Pakistan’s initiative.
“This reflects how Pakistan is concerned over the issues faced by the fellow Muslim countries. It also reflects the vision to help bring cordiality among Muslim brotherly countries,” he added.
Mushahid also noted the arrival of Chinese President Xi Jinping to the Gulf region, saying it showed that the interests of Beijing and Islamabad were converging on regional issues.
“This is an interesting coincidence which shows how closely Pakistan and China are working to defuse tensions in Gulf region,” he said.
Saudi Arabia and fellow-Sunni Bahrain cut ties with Iran a few days after Iranian demonstrators stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran in protest at Riyadh’s execution of prominent cleric Sheikh Nimr.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and some other states broke off ties with Iran over the attack. The United Arab Emirates downgraded relations while some others recalled their envoys in protest.
The Iranian government quickly distanced itself from the attack, saying the protesters had entered the Saudi embassy despite widespread efforts by the police to stop them.
Last week, Saudi Defence Minister Mohammad bin Salman visited Islamabad to discuss Saudi Arabia’s military alliance against the self-styled Islamic State, and met with Army chief General Raheel Sharif who assured him of a “strong response” to threats to the kingdom’s territorial integrity without committing troops to the alliance.