ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Wednesday said that it expected Iran to understand its position on sending its troops to Saudi Arabia purely on a training task and it would continue maintaining a delicate balance in its ties with Saudi Arabia and Iran as it was cautious of being drawn into Middle East’s sectarian power struggles.
Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir expressed these views while addressing an international seminar on “Contemporary Relations between Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia: Present Challenges” organised by Strategic Vision Institute (SVI).
SVI had organised the seminar to study the options available with Pakistan to maintain the fragile equilibrium in its ties with Iran and Saudi Arabia in view of their growing rivalry and shifting geopolitical environment of the region.
The defence minister explained the principles driving Pakistan’s Middle East policy and said that it was “undergirded by its longstanding close relations with Saudi Arabia and by its focus on limiting the domestic fallout of sectarian tensions stemming from the Saudi Arabia – Iran rivalry”.
Explaining further, the minister said that Pakistan had an “ideological affinity and deep military, economic, and leadership” ties with Saudi Arabia, whereas it was building “economic cooperation and counter-terrorism links” with Iran. “An opening” had been achieved with Iran, he added.
Relations with Saudi Arabia, the defense minister said, were being updated and expanded into newer areas including economic and industrial cooperation. He said that Pakistan had for decades deputed its troops to Saudi Arabia under bilateral agreements on training and advisory missions.
“Pakistan Armed Forces personnel have been deputed to Saudi Arabia for many decades on training and advisory missions – under longstanding bilateral agreements and protocols. After the evolution of the Saudi-led Islamic Military effort from an alliance into a counterterrorism coalition, Pakistan has offered cooperation in counterterrorism training and communications,” he said.
Driven by the highest leadership of both countries, he said, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia had recently started a process of updating and widening their historical partnership into new areas, particularly economic and industrial cooperation.
“Yet it is a matter of record that in 2015, Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) government chose, with the support of Parliament, to avoid being implicated directly in the Yemen conflict,” he said, adding that another more recent challenge was the relationship between Qatar and GCC, particularly Saudi Arabia.
“Compared to Iran, Pakistan’s diplomatic and trade relations with Qatar — a 15-year agreement to import gas and defence deals — are quite significant,” he said, “Pakistan at the same time, expects Iran to have more understanding of Pakistan’s position towards its historical partnership with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.”
Iranian Ambassador Mehdi Honardoost looked cautiously optimistic about the future of Pakistan-Iran ties and said that the horizon was bright despite impediments and obstacles.
The ambassador said that Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline was not progressing and moreover no progress had been made on the establishment of banking channels. He assured that Indian involvement in Chabahar Port would not be used against Pakistan. He said that Pakistan had the potential to heal the widening rift among the Muslim countries.
Former ambassador Syed Hassan Javed cautioned Iran against the threats that Indian presence in Chahbahar would pose to Iran’s security itself. Former ambassador Arif Kamal stressed on maintaining a balance in relations with Iran and Turkey and said that bending more towards one side could be problematic.
Former Defence Production secretary Lt Gen (r) Syed Muhammad Owais, who presided over the concluding session, said that Pakistan’s mediation efforts could contribute to promoting harmony between Muslim countries.
Former foreign secretary Shamshad Ahmed Khan said that there was a divergence between how the people and the government viewed the support for Saudi Arabia.