The Gulf states including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt have severed its ties with the small, but oil-rich Arab state, Qatar, by accusing the later of supporting Saudi arch rival Iran and proliferating terrorism and extremism in the region. This diplomatic deadlock in Arabian Peninsula leaves hard choices for the only Muslim de facto nuclear state and Pakistan’s neighboring country, Iran. Pakistan’s rule is important in this crisis and how it will impact Pak-Qatar, Pak-Saudi and Pak-Iran relations.
Pakistan relations with Qatar
Qatar got independence from the United Kingdom on September 3, 1971. Arab states were among the first to recognize Qatar, and the country gained admittance to the United Nations and the Arab League in the same year. Soon after independence Pakistan and Qatar developed bilateral relations. Pakistan has an embassy in Doha; Qatar maintains an embassy in Islamabad and a consulate-general in Karachi. Relations between the two are shaped by Pakistan’s generally close relations with the Arab world. Like other nearby Gulf States, there is a large Pakistani community in Qatar which numbers over 50,000. They work in diverse fields and send remittances each year. During the 2010 Pakistan floods, Qatar provided timely assistance to the country.
The relations between Pakistan and Qatar were deep rooted further when Pakistan signed a 15-year gas supply agreement with Qatar. Islamabad would import 3.75 million tons of liquefied natural gas (LNG) annually and add 2,000 megawatts of power to the national grid. Not only was the agreement with Qatar gas-2 – the largest LNG producer globally – going to singlehandedly almost halve the country’s electricity shortfall and amount for over 85 percent of Pakistan’s LNG import capacity, it also diversifies Pakistan’s energy mix time-tested and the leadership and people of both brotherly Muslim countries have immense love and respect with each other as Qatar Government has played key role in providing timely assistance and rehabilitation to flood victims. People of Pakistan and Qatar are associated with each other in diversified fields, religion and both countries are enjoying cordial relations.
The deal, Pakistan’s biggest, will help the country add about 2,000 megawatts of gas-fired power-generating capacity and improve production from fertilizer plants now hobbled by a lack of gas, a government official said.
Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have sought to develop extensive commercial, cultural, religious, political, and strategic relations since the establishment of Pakistan in 1947. Pakistan affirms its relationship with Saudi Arabia as their most “important and bilateral partnership” in the current foreign policy of Pakistan, by developing closer bilateral ties with Saudi Arabia, the largest country on the Arabian peninsula and host to the two holiest cities of Islam i-e Makkah and Madina, the destinations of Muslim pilgrims.
Additionally, Pakistan maintains close military ties with Saudi Arabia, providing extensive support, arms and training for the Saudi Arabian military. Fighter Pilots of the Pakistan Air Force flew aircraft of the Royal Saudi Air Force to repel an incursion from South Yemen in 1969. In the 1970s and 1980s, approximately 15,000 Pakistani soldiers served in KSA. Saudi Arabia has negotiated the purchase of Pakistani ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. It is also speculated that Saudi Arabia had secretly funded Pakistan’s atomic bomb program and seeks to purchase atomic weapons from Pakistan to avoid possible threats posed by its regional rival Iran, Iraq and Israel. Both nations have received high-level delegations of scientists, government and Saudi military experts of seeking to study the development of a Saudi nuclear program.
Policy challenges for Pakistan
This diplomatic deadlock in Arabian Peninsula leaved hard choices for Pakistan foreign policy makers either to join KSA or satisfy Iran. The policy makers of Pakistan are pondering on hard available options.
Firstly, available options for Pakistan is to bandwagon itself with Arab states in the leadership of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) against Qatar and invite the wrath of Iran.
Secondly, the blatant support of Arab isolated Qatar and showing soft approach for Iran can be more problematic for heterogeneous Pakistan, as its massive Sunni population and plethora of pro Saudi Wahabi leaders potentially create an internal instability by giving it the sectarian colour in the already terrorism victim country. So these horrifying consequences will not allow Pakistani policy makers to even think about on this option. Pakistan enjoys friendly relations with both Saudi Arabia and Qatar, however the diplomatic stalemate in the Gulf countries, has leaved only the hard choices for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s present government to back either Riyad and Doha.
The intellectuals and civil society of the country rightly demand from pro Saudi Sharif to stay practically nonaligned with Riyadh in the escalating Gulf crisis, as his unconditional support to Kingdom of Saudi Arabia could probably intensify the Sunni-Shiite conflict in already sectarian fragile South Asian nation.
Pakistan’s neighbor Iran is also unhappy with Islamabad’s active role in Saudi led Islamic Military Alliance (IMA) of 41 Muslim nations, in which former Chief of Pakistan army assigned a leading role. Furthermore, Tehran’s Ambassador to Pakistan conveyed their grievance to Sharif government.
Finally, Pakistan’s civilian government and the military establishment, which enjoys a significant share of Saudi funding, Islamabad is more inclined towards Saudi Arabia. As it is noticeable that Islamabad is hardly doing anything that would be taken as support for Doha.
In short, the fresh diplomatic crisis between Riyadh and Doha may not effect Pakistan adversely soon, but Islamabad’s blatant announcement of alignment with any of conflicting party will be interpreted against by another opponent. The recently adopted neutral, unbiased approach of Pakistan can save it for time being, but the apparent fear of prolong tensions in Gulf would bring adverse consequence for Islamabad. Rationally, the fruitful diplomacy between the conflicting parties is the most viable and demanding solution of Saudi-Qatar severed relations, which Pakistan can facilitate by taking Tehran and Riyadh into confidence.