Analyzing Pakistan’s Balancing Approach Vis a Vis Iran and Saudi Arabia


Exploring the foreign policy choices of Pakistan vis, a vis middle east in general and gulf states in particular when finds that there is dearth of maneuvering options for Pakistan in the region. The reasons could be attributed to a host of drivers, for instance, geo-political considerations, sectarian infightings, economic pull factors like remittances inflows, religious and cultural affinity, civilizational experiences, historical, linguistic congruity, demographic makeup and shared religious ideals with Iran and Saudi Arabia. Therefore, all of these factors combined made it an arduous task for Pakistan to calibrate a nuanced foreign policy which was capable of navigating the zero-sum dynamics of Middle East. Moreover, the conflicting views of Iran and Saudi Arabia on several contested issues like that of US presence in the region, Yemen War, Afghanistan conundrum, Sectarianism, Nuclear proliferation precisely, JCPOA and on pipeline politics have entangled Pakistan in a web of uncertainty prompted Pakistan to opt for a cautious balancing approach rather than an approach that called for picking up sides between the two middle eastern bulwarks. Hence, it could be stated that argues cognizance geostrategic realities and a plethora of domestic drivers pushed Pakistan to meticulously craft a policy of neutrality- a policy that aims to strike a delicate balance between the two opposing camps. Having said that, one aspect that needs to be highlighted in this context is the role played by India in Pakistan’s relationship with Iran and Saudi Arabia. There is no doubt that domestic economic political and religious necessities prompted Pakistan to adopt a certain foreign policy vis a vis Iran and Saudi Arabia, however, the strategic realignments in the region, particularly India’s turn towards Saudi Arabia and its closeness mustn’t be overlooked while analyzing the rationale behind Pakistan’s foreign policy calculus.

In the presence of structural anarchy, Pakistan and India’s foreign policy decisions are largely driven by zero-sum dynamics wherein, each and every maneuver carried out by either of them is scrutinized and viewed with suspicion by both of them. In addition to that, dynamics of Balance of Threat provides crucial insights into the prevailing mindset of Pakistan’s policy makers wherein the proposition is that to balance the threats emanating out of India’s outreach in the policy circles of Pakistan’s immediate and extended Muslim neighbor, the country’s opted for cautious balancing vis a vis Saudi Arabia and Iran as the most feasible and effective option. The strategic culture of Pakistan has been dominated by the fears and perception that India has been having troubles with the very existence of Pakistan. The extent of hostility is evident from the illustrations that the two countries have gone to war on at least three distinct occasions i.e. in 1948, 1965 and 1971, furthermore, they have been constantly engaged in numerous border skirmishes. However, what exacerbates the threat calculus in not the just the evidence of historical hostilities but the reality of the country’s comparative profiling with that of India in terms of the latter’s aggregate capabilities measured on accounts of size, manpower, economic prowess, technological development and defense spending.

A thorough investigation of the military budget, nuclear capabilities, armed forces, air and naval capabilities of India and Pakistan cement the rationale behind Pakistan’s consistent threat perception vis a vis India. The superiority India enjoys in terms of size which accounts for 70% of the total landmass of South Asia, 1.2 million-strong army, supported by more than 3,565 battle tanks, 3,100 infantry fighting vehicles, 336 armored personnel carriers and 9,719 pieces of artillery, 130-140 nuclear warheads, along with nine types of operational missiles, including the Agni-3 with a range of 3,000km to 5,000km feeds threat perception on part of Pakistan, which in comparison has a smaller army, with 560,000 troops backed by 2,496 tanks, 1,605 armored personnel carriers, and 4,472 artillery guns, including 375 self-propelled howitzers. The geographical proximity of India to Pakistan in the form of a shared 3,323 kilometers long eastern border makes matter worse for Pakistan. Besides that, the overt aggressive rhetoric accompanied by nefarious actions by of India towards Pakistan are well documented. For instance, the policy statements of various Indian leaders to disintegrate Pakistan on different occasions along with the subversive activities sponsored and curated by India inside Pakistan illustrated through the Kulbushan Yadev episode indicate the hostile intent of India towards Pakistan.

India being a regional power and having significant economic and military prowess along with a strategic geography has been quite overt in showcasing its aggressive intentions against Pakistan. The burgeoning ties of India with Saudi Arabia and Iran are evident from the growing diplomatic visibility of India in the deserts of Middle East. The frequency of high level visits, signing of numerous memorandum of understandings covering dimensions of mutually beneficial economic growth, Research and development, people to people contacts as well as military engagements illustrate the trends of realignments in the region. The implications of Indian maneuvering pushed Pakistan to play to neutral role between the two rivals and it is because of this very reason that successive governments in Pakistan, irrespective of their political leanings have been trying their best to navigate the ever widening gulf split which was evident from the legislative action undertaken by Pakistan by during the outbreak of Yemen war, in the form of shuttle diplomacy efforts carried out by the civil and military leadership of Pakistan in the aftermath of diplomatic cut off between Iran and Saudi Arabia and even during the blockade of Qatar.

Cognizance of the reality that any policy miscalculation on part of Pakistan has the potency to create rifts in its bilateral relationships with Iran and Saudi Arabia, which in turn can be exploited by India and given our domestic vulnerabilities in the form of a dwindling economy, political instability, religious and sect based tensions, the country couldn’t afford to remain oblivious to the changing dynamics as a strategically complacent attitude could’ve hampered its national interest by shrinking its diplomatic influence and strategic relevance in the policy circles of Iran and Saudi Arabia. In this context one can assume that Indian realignments in the region in the form of its attempts to ally Saudi Arabia and Iran is considered to be an offensive maneuver aimed to discredit Pakistan’s standing, clout and influence in the policy circles of gulf states. Thus the available option for Pakistan to both, deter India from exploiting its vulnerabilities and to ensure that its significance and relevance in the strategic circles of Iran and Saudi Arabia remains intact, was to play at both the galleries i.e. to maintain a position of neutrality by balancing and not bandwagoning with either of the two Gulf States.

Comments are closed.

Subscribe to Newsletter