Magnificent mediatory mission


WEB DESK: Pakistan has come up with an appropriate policy response to the escalating Saudi-Iran tensions. Dispelling public apprehensions that the country might succumb to pressure from Saudi friends to take sides – which could have dangerous consequences for the sectarian harmony of this society – Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has undertaken an extraordinary diplomatic initiative.

Accompanied by Chief of the Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif, he embarked on a two-day mediatory mission to both Saudi Arabia and Iran. Notably, at first the plan was for defence minister Khawaja Asif to travel to Tehran, according to an official account, for promoting defence ties, though the real purpose at this point in time could only be to offer a much-needed assurance to Iranian friends that Pakistan is to remain impartial in the Gulf region’s conflict. That was important enough. But it is even better, in fact heartening indeed, that the government has decided to play a mediatory role at the highest level.

It can only be seen as a right step at the right time. Iran is coming out of the cold after a long period of Western isolation. Subsequent to the nuclear watchdog body, IAEA, giving the country a clean chit on its international obligations under the P5+1 agreement, the UN and the US have lifted nuclear-related sanctions on the country. Although the US has imposed a new set of sanctions on Tehran because of its ballistic missile test firing, the two countries have already been in direct diplomatic contact leading to a high-profile prisoner swap. Restoration of diplomatic ties between them is only a matter of time.

The adversarial nature of relations is unlikely to change soon, but roll back of Iran’s nuclear programme will certainly have a profound effect on the US policy towards a changing Middle East. Washington may not remain as eager as it has been to jump into the regional disputes on the side of its traditional allies. In fact, it has begun to see Iran as a helpful partner in the ongoing fight against IS. Iran too may be willing to avoid provocative behaviour towards other states of the region. This therefore seems to be an opportune moment for Pakistan, enjoying good relations with both the kingdom and the Islamic Republic of Iran, to help them adopt a conciliatory attitude towards one another.

These are testing times for Pakistan’s diplomacy. While already engaged in organising an international effort to end the Afghan war, it found itself being dragged into the Saudi-Iran conflict, triggering fears inside the country of inflaming sectarian passions.

It is a matter of great satisfaction therefore that the government decided not to get its feet wet, selecting instead to do what is in the best interest of all concerned, including its own. That is not going to be easy especially in view of special relations with Saudi Arabia, which has high expectations of Pakistan. It is apparently in view of the delicate nature of the mission that the Prime Minister took along the Army chief so he could better explain the difficulties and the hazards involved in pursuing a confrontation course. Hopefully, the Pakistani delegation will succeed in defusing tensions.

Source: Business Recorder