When Saudi Arabia and other major Arab countries cut off ties with Qatar last week, Pakistan – which enjoys close ties both with Saudis and Qataris – was none too pleased about the crisis in the gulf.
It puts Pakistan in an awkward situation now that the South Asian nation has to pick sides in the heated conflict that isolates Doha. While Gulf countries are turning Qatar into a pariah state, its close allies Turkey and Iran have already come to Qatar’s rescue.
Many think that Pakistan is willing to abandon its friendship with Saudis to team up with Ankara and Teheran in in an effort to aid Qataris, but Islamabad apparently has no plans to do so. Instead, Pakistan embraces its middleman role in resolving the Qatar diplomatic crisis, and Monday’s one-day visit of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Riyadh is the latest indication of that.
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But will Saudis and the rest of the Gulf Arab states be willing to listen to Pakistan in its calls to resolve the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf? Does Islamabad has enough reputation in the region to mediate crisis-resolution talks between Qataris and Saudis and hammer out some kid of a deal?
Iran and Turkey rush to rescue Qatar: But what about Pakistan?
As of today, Pakistan holds a very powerful tool in its hands – Islamabad enjoys close ties both with Doha and Riyadh. In fact, Pakistan’s warm relations with Saudis seem to place the nation in a very unique situation, as Pakistan-Saudi relations reached their highest in the aftermath of former Pakistan Army Chief Raheel Sharif taking reins of the Saudi-led NATO-style military coalition against Islamic State.
Pakistan could become the key to the resolution of the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf, as it could potentially use its good reputation to resolve the boiling conflict between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, all of which cut diplomatic ties with Qatar accusing the Gulf Arab nation of supporting terrorism.
Iran, which has wrestled against Saudi Arabia for leadership of the Muslim world for a while now, jumped right into the middle of the heated crisis and took Qatar’s side. Teheran sent five planes of food exports to Doha, as Qatar has no air and transport access to the rest of the Gulf countries. Iran’s aid to Qatar comes days after chaos erupted across Qatar’s land, as Qataris rushed to supermarkets to stock up on food and other essential products.
Turkey, meanwhile, also sided with Qatar by sending troops there. As Pakistan is a close ally of Turkey, many experts thought Islamabad would follow suit and also send troops to Doha. But despite reports of 20,000 Pakistani troops deployed to the isolated Gulf Arab nation, the Pakistani government claims it has no plans to do so.
Two opposite forces tugging on Qatar’s isolation rope
Pakistan could be one of the forces holding the entire diplomatic crisis in the Gulf under control, as the nation’s deployment of 20,000 troops could make the crisis spiral out of control. PM Nawaz’s visit to Saudi Arabia could potentially play a major role in calming tensions in the Saudi-Qatar standoff, as on Tuesday the PM called for a swift resolution of the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf.
There are two opposite forces tugging strongly on the Qatar’s isolation rope: Qatar, from one side, to hit back at the allied Gulf Arab nations for their efforts to turn Doha into a pariah state. And from the other side, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arab nations, who want Doha punished for its alleged links to terrorism.
And Pakistan could be standing right in the middle of the isolation rope with scissors in its hands. Thanks to its close ties to Saudi Arabia and numerous business ventures in Qatar, Islamabad could potentially help resolve the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf. In fact, Pakistan has plenty of experience in bringing Muslim nations closer, as the nation has recently stepped up its efforts to resolve the heated conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, whose friendship with Qatar became one of the reasons for Qatar’s isolation in the Arab world.
Does Pakistan have what it takes to resolve the crisis in the Gulf?
As Saudi Arabia is the driving force behind the isolation of Doha, Pakistan could use its warm relations with the kingdom to calm tensions in the Gulf. And PM Nawaz’s visit to Riyadh this week could lay out the groundwork for resolving one of the most unpredictable conflicts in the Arab world.
As Saudi Arabia is looking to tighten its grip in the region and bring down Doha in the process, Qatar finds itself isolated in the world, as even the U.S. turned its back on Doha after supporting Saudi’s efforts to punish one of the world’s richest countries for its alleged ties to terrorism. Much like Pakistan, Kuwait is also trying to play the role of an intermediary between Saudis and Qataris in an attempt to amicably resolve the crisis.
In what serves as a yet another evidence of warm ties between Islamabad and Riyadh, their relations were unaffected by Pakistan’s refusal to join Saudi’s military campaign against Yemen’s Shiite rebels in 2015. Yemen was one of the countries that cut off all ties with Qatar last week.
In this case, there are no visible cracks in the Pakistan-Saudi friendship as Islamabad still continues to enjoy close ties with Qatar, which faces an incredible amount of international pressure for its alleged support for radicalism and terrorism as well as its ties with assertive Iran.
Could Pakistan’s reputation help heal wounds of divided Arab world?
While Pakistan is looking to defuse tensions between Doha and Riyadh, it’s unclear if Saudis are willing to reconcile or accept any mediation at this stage. Kuwait’s efforts to bring Qataris and Saudis closer to holding talks have so far been futile, as Riyadh has expressed little to no interest in listening to Kuwait.
But given Pakistan’s reputation among the Gulf states, could the nation become the driving force behind the resolution of the crisis in the Gulf and heal the wounds of a divided Arab world?