The Pakistani Chief of Army Staff is reportedly making an urgent trip to Iran as tensions are rising. After Iran fired five mortar shells into Pakistan last Sunday in response to Islamabad’s participation in a summit led by U.S. President Donald Trump and hosted by Iran’s rival Saudi Arabia, cracks in their decades-long friendship deepened.
Pakistani Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa is making an urgent trip to Iran to address the Muslim nation’s concerns regarding Pakistan’s participation in the event and Islamabad’s joining the so-called Muslim NATO, a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia, according to SAMAA, which cites a reliable source.
While details of General Bajwa’s visit to Iran are being kept under wraps, the source revealed that addressing Iran’s heated concerns regarding Pakistan’s participation in the Saudi-led military coalition would be on the agenda of the meeting. Shia-majority Tehran has repeatedly voiced its concerns about Pakistan joining the Saudi-led Muslim NATO. It believes the coalition is essentially a Sunni coalition targeting the Shias, despite it being headed by Former Pakistani army chief General (retd.) Raheel Sharif.
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Pakistan’s participation in the coalition has created a painful headache for Pakistan, as its decades-long partnership with Iran is standing on thin ice in the wake of a heated exchange of hostile gestures on their 900-kilometer border and a brutal war of words between their leaders.
Pakistanis are hopeful that General Bajwa’s trip to Tehran will help defuse escalating tensions between the two Muslim nations and perhaps lay out the groundwork for Iran to join the coalition, the main objective of which is to eradicate terrorism in the region.
Iran-Pakistan tensions spiraling out of control
Relations between Iran and Pakistan reached their lowest level in the aftermath of Islamabad’s visible tilt towards Saudi Arabia and the killing of 10 Iranian guards in a militant attack at Pakistan’s border last month. General Bajwa’s trip to Tehran is being viewed as Pakistan’s attempt to keep the tensions from spiraling out of control.
In addition to defusing tensions between Tehran and Islamabad, General Bajwa is also expected to offer that Pakistan act as a mediator between Iran and Saudi Arabia to deescalate the long-standing conflict between the two Muslin nations, which goes back to their ideological Shia-Sunni rivalry. The boiling ideological rivalry between the Saudis and Iranians is also being fueled by the geopolitical competition over Saudi Arabia’s and Iran’s superior roles in the region.
Iranians see the Saudi-led military coalition as Saudi Arabia’s attempt to tighten its grip on superiority in the region by spreading anti-Shia ideology. Pakistan’s joining of the so-called Muslim NATO was met with a furious response from Iran, as Islamabad has for decades opted not to take sides in the longstanding conflict between the two Islamic regional powers.
Are Iranians ready to spill blood in Pakistan over Saudi rivalry?
After a series of futile attempts from the Pakistanis to get Iran to join the military coalition led by its biggest enemy, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif further fueled the Iran-Pakistan tensions by arriving in Saudi Arabia last week to attend the U.S.-Arab-Islamic Summit.
Iran gave a very clear reaction by firing five mortar shells from its territory into Sunni-majority Pakistan’s largest province of Balochistan. Pakistan’s participation in the summit, which was attended by Saudi Arabian King Salman bin Abdulaziz, President Trump and 55 heads of state and government from Muslim-majority countries, was viewed by Iranians as its support of Riyadh against Tehran.
However, a senior official at the Pakistani foreign ministry told The Nation that Pakistan’s participation in the summit did not mean it was taking Saudi Arabia’s side over Iran. The official also reiterated that the summit’s agenda was to discuss strategy for eradicating terrorism and extremism from the volatile region.
Pakistan ripped apart by Iran and Saudi Arabia: Who’s pulling the rope stronger?
As the Iranians and Saudis wrestle for leadership of the Muslim word, Pakistan stands between the two fires. Pakistan’s attempts to convince Iran that the Saudi-led military coalition will not be used against Tehran and other Shia-majority countries have been fruitless so far. In addition to the fruitless attempts to foster unity between Riyadh and Tehran, Pakistan’s decision to join the Saudi-led coalition has played a cruel joke on its own relations with Iran.
As seen from General Bajwa’s reported upcoming visit to Iran, Pakistan is now making attempts to amend ties to Iran. Last weekend, Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif congratulated Hassan Rouhani on his re-election as Iranian president. In his statement to the Iranian president, the Pakistani PM assured the Iranian people that Iran-Pakistan relations can withstand the test of time due to their shared bonds of history, culture, traditions and faith.
Tensions between the two Islamic neighbors, however, show no sign of going away. Tehran and Islamabad have engaged in a heated war of words, with Iranians turning up the heat by threatening earlier this month to strike inside Pakistan against alleged militants hiding in the country.
Despite Pakistan’s warnings against Iranian threats to launch strikes inside Pakistan and Islamabad’s warning that brutal words or actions by Teheran could damage their brotherly ties, Iran decided to fire five mortar shells into Pakistani territory in response to its participation in the Saudi-led summit.
Who will Pakistan go with: Iranians or Saudis?
Iran’s hostility toward Pakistan is based on its unwavering belief that the Islamic neighbor is taking sides in the centuries-long Saudi-Iran rivalry. Islamabad, however, has repeatedly assured its neighbor that the Muslim NATO is not intended to target the Shias. It also continues to make attempts to bring the Saudis and Iranians closer in order to fight terrorism and extremism in the region.
Iranians have shown reluctance to join the coalition while relations between Tehran and Islamabad continue to nosedive. If there are plans to send Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar and General Bajwa to Iran, they should be carried out in the coming days, as tensions between the two neighbors could spiral out of control and no Muslim NATO will save the region from horrible consequences.