By Mohammad Ali Dehqanian
A few months after reports were released about General Raheel Sharif, the former commander of the Pakistani army, planning to accept command of the Saudi-led coalition in the war on Yemen, the government of Pakistan has finally confirmed those reports and given necessary authorization to General Sharif to accept the post. This state of affairs prompted the ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to Pakistan to immediately express Iran’s objection to the measure. Mehdi Honardoust, Iran’s envoy to Pakistan, took part in an interview with the Pakistani media saying, “Before authorizing General Raheel Sharif to join the aforesaid military coalition, the government of Pakistan had contacted Iran. However, this does not mean that Iran was content with Pakistan’s decision or had accepted it. Iran had told Pakistan that it would not join military coalitions like the aforesaid coalition, noting that it had received no proposal to join this coalition either.” Honardoust emphasized that “today, the region and the Islamic world need a ‘coalition for peace’ more than anything else.”
The decision by Islamabad also elicited protests from other quarters and was even slammed by such parties as Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which is led by Imran Khan and has usually tried not to take any position against the Pakistani army. Imran Khan argued that the measure was at odds with the proclaimed impartiality of Pakistan in the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia and noted that it would have catastrophic effects on relations between Shias and Sunnis in Pakistan. A certain portion of the Pakistani media outlets also took Islamabad to task for this decision. Before this and in early March, there was a report circulating, which denoted that Pakistan was considering a request by Saudi Arabia to dispatch military forces as large as a full brigade to Saudi Arabia. Therefore, the appointment of General Sharif must not be considered as a decision, which is only limited to him.
Now, the question is what factors have prompted Pakistan to take such a brazen step to join the Saudi-led coalition? In economic terms, Pakistan always considers itself in debt to Saudi Arabia’s financial aid, especially now that following reduction of the US aid to Pakistan, the money coming from Saudi Arabia has become much more important for Islamabad. In addition, there are a high number of Pakistani laborers, who are currently working in Saudi Arabia and other sheikdoms of the Persian Gulf and the money they send back to Pakistan is of high importance to the country. On the other hand, in military terms, Pakistan has an eye on arms sales to these countries. Of course, it must be noted that part of these weapons are then channeled to various terrorist groups by these Persian Gulf states. Moreover, Pakistan is trying to present to these countries the military technology it has acquired from China, including JF-17 jet fighters, and greatly increase its revenue. In political terms, the incumbent Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif considers himself in debt to Riyadh due to the years that Saudi Arabia hosted him in exile and is, in fact, showing clear inclination toward Saudis in order to repay his past debt to them. Another consideration that has pushed Pakistan toward Saudi Arabia is Islamabad’s concern about increasing influence of India in the Persian Gulf and the strengthening ties between New Delhi and Arab countries in that region. In fact, Persian Gulf sheikdoms have used their relations with India as a means of encouraging Pakistan to join the Saudi-led coalition.
This measure will have consequences for Pakistan, including casting doubt on the political independence of the country, which can be its most important consequence for Pakistan. The incumbent government in Pakistan has shown that it cannot resist Saudi Arabia’s demands and only tries through rhetoric to pretend that it has independent and impartial positions. The second consequence of this measure for Pakistan can show itself in the form of further strengthening of relations between Iran and India. In fact, India is the pressure point of Pakistan and Iran, as an important regional actor, is totally able to strengthen its ties with India and help New Delhi in Afghanistan and Central Asia. In this way, Tehran will be able to make Islamabad realize its strategic mistake. Another consequence of this measure may show itself in Pakistan in the form of the widening gap between Shias and Sunnis in the country. Shia Muslims account for about 20 percent of the population in Pakistan. Therefore, membership of this country in a sectarian coalition can lead to intensification of conflicts and anti-Shia violence in Pakistan. Although Pakistan claims that the Saudi-led coalition is not an anti-Iran and sectarian coalition, even impartial foreign observers have been considering it as an anti-Shia and anti-Iran coalition.
Another question that is posed here is for what reasons Saudi Arabia is so persistently trying to get Pakistan into the coalition? Undoubtedly, the most important factor, which has made Saudi Arabia want to have Islamabad as a member of the coalition, is to disturb the balance of power in West Asia to the detriment of Iran. Saudi Arabia and other allies of this country in the Persian Gulf are by no means considered as a balancing force in the face of Iran and this is why they have been trying to get support from such countries as Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan. Saudi Arabia has been trying to mobilize all regional and transregional powers in its own favor and has even formed an unofficial coalition with the Zionist regime of Israel as well.
In addition, Saudi officials believe that election of the US President Donald Trump has provided them with a good opportunity to change the regional balance of power to their own benefit. They believe that the regional power balance had been totally tilted in favor of Iran following the fall of the former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein. In this way, Saudi Arabia is trying to give new life to a coalition, which has already committed war crimes and lost its legitimacy. The sure point is that regional balance in West Asia is changing and the main driving force behind this change is the election of Trump as the president of the United States in addition to the role that this development plays in bolstering positions of Saudi Arabia and the Zionist regime of Israel against the Islamic Republic of Iran. In the meantime, Riyadh is trying to get Pakistan completely into its own camp.
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