Editorial: King Salman’s regret



Although King Salman of Saudi Arabia has expressed his regret over Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif not being able to address the Arab-Islamic-American summit in the Saudi capital Riyadh, Pakistanis are still upset over this unsavory incident. They, for example, want to know what prompted this snub to the Muslim world’s only nuclear power. Is it that the Saudis and their principal guest at the summit, US President Donald Trump, are not cognizant of Pakistan’s heroic role in the fight against international terrorism? Which other country invited to the summit has suffered as much as Pakistan in terms of human lives and material losses? The snub is all the more hurting given the clear understanding that he would address the gathering, and he had gone some length by preparing his speech. Given Pakistan’s enviable victory over terrorists on home front, a fiat that earned the ex-Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, quite a few had also expected a Pakistan-American-Saudi trilateral meeting on the margins of the summit. But nothing of the sort happened; neither was he invited to address the summit nor was he afforded an opportunity to hold a one-on-one meeting with President Trump. If this was not enough of a diplomatic embarrassment for Pakistan much more of it was reflected from the speech President Trump made on the occasion. According to him, “the nations of Europe have also endured unspeakable horror. So too have the nations of Africa and South America. India, Russia, China, and Australia have all been victims.” Pakistan was not on his list. If India with all of its barbaric crackdown on the people of Occupied Kashmir is a victim of terrorism in the eyes of the United States president and Pakistan figures nowhere in that category then there is something really wrong with Pak-US bilateralism. Thank you Mr Trump, we have come to know where we stand vis-�-vis the United States.

But as dust settles on President Trump’s visit to the Middle East and contours of his mission to the region emerge one would tend to conclude that he was in there for something else. If he talked about international terrorism, particularly of the Islamic State brand, this too was in a specific context. Said rather bluntly, President Trump was in the kingdom to sell arms and in that he greatly succeeded – mainly by playing on Saudi royals’ fears of Iran. To him Iran is mother of all evils and it should be confronted by all Muslim countries. But that is not likely to happen because every other Muslim country tends to evaluate its position in the Saudi-Iran divide in light of its own national interest. The other day, the Foreign Office spokesman said Pakistan is for mediatory role between Saudi Arabia and Iran. “We will continue to play a constructive role in this regard whenever the situation warrants. We remain committed to bridging differences within the Muslim Ummah, and bringing the countries together,” he said. As for “the fantasy of Arab Nato” – how aptly defined by seasoned Middle East analyst Robert Fisk – Pakistan is yet to figure out its terms of reference. Its modalities would be discussed as and when defence ministers of participating countries would meet. But what is known is that it will not join any conflict between other states as it had done by refusing to send troops to Yemen to help the Arab coalition. And were President Trump sincerely committed to rescuing the Muslim world from the clutches of dreaded Islamic State he should have followed up on that during his visit to Israel. But he did not; he left the Israeli-Palestinian issue where it was. There was no mention of two-state borders, border settlements or moving his embassy to Jerusalem. Is it that the Islamic summit at Riyadh didn’t press him hard enough on the issue of Palestine or is it so because he couldn’t afford to disagree with the Israeli stand on the question of two-state solution? All about President Trump’s yatra to the Middle East is not yet known. Only time will reveal the whole truth about it.