- Pakistan’s limited role in the Middle East situation
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, on the directions of Prime Minister Imran Khan, went to Iran and Saudi Arabia to offer Pakistan’s full support to both countries in resolving the situation forming in the Middle East. It is unlikely that the FM’s visit will result in any de-escalation, rather the two back-to-back trips are simply symbolic in nature. Special Assistant to Prime Minister on National Security Division and Strategic Policy Planning Moeed Yusuf said as much during a talk, that ‘Pakistan’s engagements in the region aim to convince rival countries to de-escalate’. Iran, as it had warned after the US killed its top general Qassim Soleimani, responded with missile strikes on US bases in Iraq. Within an hour of the attack Iran also shot down a Ukrainian commercial airliner over its airspace, claiming days later that it was an ‘unintentional mistake’. The incident has since sparked protests in the country and brought international blowback as well. A series of rocket and mortar attacks has since followed on US-army sites in Iraq. No one has claimed responsibility for the strikes that have come after the initial one, which is why the US is blaming Iran-backed militias.
As the situation unfolds, it can easily dangerously escalate, as it has just in the past one week. Pakistan needs to be much better prepared diplomatically for that possibility in order to stay out of any conflict, which is its stated policy. Recent foreign policy and diplomatic faux pas have not helped our credibility or dependability in providing effective mediation between any of the main parties involved; US, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Pakistan pulling out of the Malaysia Summit at the last moment on Saudi Arabia’s insistence made it embarrassingly clear to Iran how much we are dependent on Saudi aid. The US exerts the same amount of control through the IMF and the FATF grey listing. The trip is therefore a formality, a courtesy call and nothing more than a way to show the world that we too are an important part of the region and are as concerned as everyone else.