Prime Minister Imran Khan, in his interview with German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW), has stated that a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran would be disastrous for Pakistan, and his administration is striving with utmost effort to prevent any escalation in the region. In this wide-ranging interview with DW Editor-in-Chief Ines Pohl, Mr. Khan said that “…a military conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran would be disastrous for Pakistan. We are trying our best to make sure that ties between these two countries do not deteriorate. It is a region that cannot afford another conflict”.
In the recent hostile escalation between Iran and the US that ensued from the killing of Iranian general, Qasim Soleimani, Pakistan has maintained a neutral stance while approaching the issue with caution. On January 6, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, while addressing the senate, said that Pakistan would not become a party to the conflict between Iran and the US ” Pakistan’s soil will not be used against any other state,” Mr.Qureshi told the Senate. On January 8, Qureshi was asked by PM Khan to visit Iran, Saudi Arabia and the US to convey the message that Islamabad will not be a part of this conflict. “I have asked FM Qureshi to visit Iran, KSA & USA to meet with respective foreign ministers, Secretary of State; & COAS Gen Bajwa to contact relevant military leaders to convey a clear message: Pakistan is ready to play its role for peace but it can never again be part of any war,” the prime minister has said in a tweet.
Over the last four decades, Pakistan’s soil has been used in the US-aided war against the Soviet Union and in US’s “war on terror” in Afghanistan; needless to say, Pakistan has paid a big price for it in every respect. But this time, Pakistan has categorically ruled out the possibility of lending its territory against its neighbor.
Pakistan cannot be a part of this conflict due to many reasons among which the most significant ones would be discussed here. First and foremost, Pakistan cannot be a party to a conflict against Iran due to its large Shiite population, which has religious sympathies and affiliation with Shiite-majority Iran. Pakistan has the world’s largest minority population of Shiite Muslims with sympathies for Iran. The best strategy for Pakistan would be to remain on the sidelines in case of conflict between Iran and US. Pakistan thoroughly recognizes this fact and its cautious move is indicative of this recognition.
Pakistan also needs to maintain safe distance from the anti-Iran coalition because both the states have recently started to cooperate with each other in securing their mutual border. After more than 15 years of disturbance and cross-border raids and insurgent attacks, Tehran and Islamabad appear to be finally cooperating on stabilizing their 900-km-long border that divides the agitated region of Baluchistan into the two countries.
Pakistan will also stay away from getting embroiled in this conflict while sparing no effort to mitigate it, as it wants to avoid a negative impact on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the Pakistan component of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Experts believe that if Iran and the US enter into a direct hostile confrontation, it would disturb the progress of the CPEC and the chances of its timely completion. “A devastating war in the region will only add to the problems faced by CPEC and further diminish its potential impact,” said Abubakar Siddique, a senior correspondent and researcher for Radio Free Europe.
Pakistan is at a point in time where it’s trying to recover from the devastating internal unrest and is trying to move towards economic stability. Pakistan is also looking forward to slough off its image as USA’s proxy state in the region (as this move indicates). At this critical juncture it cannot afford another war. However, due to Pakistan’s geopolitical significance in the current situation, it can play an active mediatory role to diffuse the tensions, as Dr Moeed Yusuf, the special assistant to the prime minister on national security division and strategic policy planning, said “Pakistan is trying to play the role of a mediator for the sake of peace in the region and no Muslim country other than Pakistan could do that.”