Factors influencing Pakistan’s approach to Arab world’s crises

Alwaght- In the past few years, the Arab world’s crises taking place in Bahrain, Syria, Yemen and Iraq have been points of obsession of Pakistan’s policy concerning the Arab countries. Having Saudi Arabia as its key ally among the members of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council, or (P) GCC for short, with the power to take the biggest role and hold a sway in the Arab conflicts, Islamabad has been caught between its neighbor Iran’s approach on the one hand and the Saudi attitude on the other hand in adopting an influential approach to deal with the Arab crises. This analysis seeks elaborating on the major and influential factors shaping Pakistan’s view of the Arab world’s crises.

Pakistan’s internal factors

If we consider the Pakistani domestic factors involved in forming the Pakistani attitude towards the Arab world’s conflicts, we can say that these internal factors have been very significantly engaged in Islamabad’s way of dealing with the Arab states’ crises, as well as the ups and downs the Pakistani policy has experienced in this course. Meanwhile, on the one hand the country’s party-run governments, like the government of Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League party, have played an important role. In fact, Sharif’s party has been open to Pakistan’s convergence and collaboration with Saudi Arabia compared to the opposition Pakistan People’s Party which has a different view on the two countries’ ties. On the other hand is Pakistan’s army which holds close relations with the kingdom and regulates its policies concerning the crises in the Arab countries with a consideration of the special military and security interests secured through ties with Riyadh. Still on another side stand the radical Islamist parties which are ideologically have links and cooperation with Saudi Arabia and are inclined to walk in line with Saudi Arabia in dealing with the Arab world’s developments.

But, from another aspect, it is well known that Pakistan is a community with cultural, religious and sectarian diversity. The Shiite parties and movements, which make up a significant portion of the Pakistani population and account for about % 20 of the country’s population, have prevented Pakistan from Saudi-motivated interventions and more cooperation with Saudi Arabia. They have spoken up against such collaborations. In the opposition parties’ viewpoint, many of the Arab conflicts are actually sectarian disputes and Pakistani officials who are concerned about their country’s internal security conditions should not deepen the gaps between the various identities in the Pakistani community and drive the groups in to a face-off. With a regard to the discontent in the Pakistani community and security and economic drawbacks the country is facing, an active role played by Islamabad in the Arab conflicts in favor of Riyadh could hit Pakistan hard. Besides, Pakistan should try not to lose its ties with its neighbor Iran.

The factors of economy and Arab states’ aids   

Pakistan is a needy country and it is highly dependent on the foreign financial aids, oil and other energy resources. On the one hand, Pakistan has an over three million labor force who are working in the Persian Gulf’s Arab countries and are bringing in to the country nearly $6 billion foreign currency annually. Also the figures suggest that nearly two million people are working in Saudi Arabia and annually they send $5 billion to Pakistan. In addition, the Pakistanis make up the second largest foreign nationals community in Bahrain after the Indians. Also, Pakistan’s trade exchanges with the Persian Gulf’s Arab states reach nearly $11 billion, as they hold broad economic ties with the Arabs. Furthermore, the Arab countries provide Pakistan with financial, religious and spiritual support. They offer financial sources and investment pledges to Pakistan, as in Saudi King Salman’s visit to Islamabad, the kingdom has presented about $1.5 in aids to Pakistan.

Security and military cooperation with the (P) GCC members      

Actually, the weakness of the Council’s armies has pushed them to resort to Pakistan and to invest on the Pakistani security provision and specifically count on the use of Islamabad’s military capabilities. They also look forward to use Pakistani military forces’ potentials in critical conditions, especially when possible crises could erupt internally. In the point of view of such countries as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, Pakistani military supports for them could be bought while being cheaper, more controllable and more reliable, and they find it useful to have such an ally as Pakistan in the region for convergence and cooperation with the Arab states and for guaranteed Islamabad’s help in confrontation of internal security challenges. On the other side, Riyadh thinks that Pakistan is a non-Arab country and cannot make a rival for the kingdom globally. Also, it should be taken in to account that the Pakistani retired army generals train forces to send them to the applying Arab countries of the Persian Gulf region and thus providing these countries with manpower stands as one of Islamabad’s military benefits. Presently, a considerable number of Pakistan’s retired army staff are living in the Arab countries. The Arab states have persistently given Islamabad aids to develop its military plans and a notable part of the county’s military capabilities are built in association with Saudi Arabia.

Shifting approach towards Iran 

Iran is part of the developments taking place in the Arab world, and the Saudi-Iranian competition has put Pakistan in a tight corner. Pakistan in its choice between Iran and Saudi Arabia could not side its foreign policy entirely with Riyadh due to the special vision of Pakistan’s People’s Party, the critical parties and the Shiite and Barelvi movements. Pakistan and Iran share 900 kilometers ground borders, as they have threats in common coming from the extremist groups and drugs smuggling. The exchanged necessities require them to take in to account each other’s considerations, thereby; Islamabad could not turn a blind eye to Tehran’s approach concerning the Arab world’s crises.

What is clear is that although Pakistan has closer ties with Saudi Arabia than with Iran, it seeks following a balanced policy in its relations with Tehran and Riyadh. In fact, it is difficult for the Pakistanis to adjust themselves to the Saudi approach and at the same time it is impossible for them to fully move away from Riyadh. Considering an array of factors, Pakistan, actually, attempts to preserve its minimum cooperation with Saudi Arabia to secure its military interests but it is not willing to get engaged directly in the conflicts. It tries to deescalate the tensions through its mediation and establish balanced relations with both Iran and Saudi Arabia.

By AlWaght