Iran-Saudi rivalry: Options for Pakistan

Spearhead Special Report – 05.12.2017

By Hira A. Shafi
Senior Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

Pakistan shares deep socio-religious linkages and has common security and economic interests with both, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Ideally, Pakistan aspires to remain neutral in the Iran-Saudi rivalry, while continuing to deepen ties with both nations. However, Pakistan’s stance is prone to several vulnerabilities, thus to manage this balance Pakistan would have to work on certain internal policies and correctly respond to regional developments.

The aim of this paper is to explore the current developments in Pakistan’s bilateral ties with Iran and Saudi Arabia, address the impacts of ideologically driven proxies and look at the current regional developments in order to assess Pakistan’s options in dealing with Saudi-Arabia and Iran.

Recently, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Army Chief and Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence embarked on a trip to Saudi Arabia to attend the IMCTC meeting.

It has been stated that the purpose of the force is to defeat terrorism, integrate intelligence sharing mechanisms and help each state develop its own counter terrorism capabilities. The participation of the coalition states is to be defined in accordance with each country’s capabilities and resources, as well as in accordance with each country’s desire to participate in a given military operation.

Pakistan’s degree of participation in the force is yet to be announced, but the fact that Pakistan’s former Chief of Army commands the force has raised concerns over possible adverse impacts on Pak-Iran ties.

Earlier in November, Pakistan’s Army Chief visited Iran to discuss security issues, the meeting concluded on a positive note with agreement on improved border management and enhancing bilateral ties.

Pakistan’s consistent stance has been that it would not engage in any inter-state or sectarian conflict. The IMCTC’s commander has also in the past stated his position of opting for negotiations over critical political differences and only directing force towards transnational terror elements. Despite, that it is believed that Iran has reservations about the actual purpose of the force and Pakistan’s participation in the process. The Saudi-Iran animosity being fanned by the US and Israel influences the situation.

There is also a lack of clarity over the IMCTC’s definition of the word ‘terrorism’. According to some reports Saudi Arabia’s recently revised Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism, maintains that “criticism of the crown prince is an act of terrorism”. It also states “disturbing public order, shaking stability” and “exposing national unity to danger” as terrorism. Furthermore, the regional unfolding in the wake of the Syrian War clearly indicates that protecting respective – often divergent – national interests trumps the notion of a collective fight against transnational terror.

Currently, Saudi Arabia and Iran stand on opposite sides, to safeguard their interests in the landmasses between and around their territories. As part of its official policy on Iran, the Kingdom has mentioned the possibility of ‘fighting the battle inside Iran’. Pakistan, which shares a direct border with Iran thus becomes an integral part of the Iran-Saudi equation. Pakistan cannot ever allow Baluchistan to be used as a launch pad against Saudi Arabia.

Read Full Report: Iran-Saudi rivalry: Options for Pakistan