- Pakistan has to remain neutral
Pakistan could not avoid being drawn into the US conflict with Iran for precisely the reasons it would like to stay out. It has close ties to Iran, both because it shares a long border with it, and because it has a significant Shia minority, while Iran is a Shia state. It also has deep cultural links, because of the common Persian heritage, which has led to the philosopher of Pakistan, Allama Iqbal, being acknowledged as one of the great Persian poets of the 20th century. At the same time, Pakistan also has close ties to the USA, and has been its ally in its war in Afghanistan. It is also close to one of the USA’s main allies, Saudi Arabia. While the US has a number of allies in the Gulf, to Iran’s west, as well as troops in Afghanistan, to Iran’s east, Pakistan’s long border, as well as its relative proximity to the Strait of Hormuz make it attractive to the forces the USA is piling up there.
It is only natural for Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan to say that Pakistan will try to mediate, but not much should be expected of such efforts. Pakistan has received unprecedented attention from both sides, but the Saudi grant of the delayed $3.2 billion oil import facility is obviously meant as a sweetener for help against Iran. Iran sent Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to see Mr Khan, and he made his mediation call during their meeting.
The USA under President Trump and his National Security Adviser, John Bolton, have manufactured a crisis which began with US repudiation of the Iranian nuclear deal, and which escalated with the attacks on oil facilities in the Strait of Hormuz, the US sending an aircraft carrier group there, and now ordering in 1,500 ground troops, have heightened tensions. Pakistan should not be fooled: this is about oil. It is also about the Saudi-Iranian rivalry, which is sectarian, cultural and even historical. Even Iran is at the edge of the Middle East, and Pakistan is firmly in South Asia. It must not take sides in a quarrel which has nothing to do with it.