Saudi Arabia has remained the leader of the Muslim world for the majority of the last century and this century as well. The conflict with Iran is more a cause of geopolitics rather than Muslim leadership. Saudi Arabia was leading the Muslim world through the platform of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC). The organization which was established to safeguard Muslim interests around the world recently has become just a show of lip service with no material power to enforce or safeguard the interest of Muslim countries around the world. The main cause of the dysfunctional behavior of OIC is the diversion of Saudi Arabs and UAE towards their personal political and economic interests over the greater Muslim Ummah. The recent opening up with the United States and UAE’s recognition of Israel have furthered divided the Ummah. There is a vacuum created by the alienation of these two Arab states from the cause of Palestine and other Muslim issues. Malaysia, Turkey, and Iran have taken up to fill this vacuum. As more and more countries have started to recognize Israel and established diplomatic ties with it, Malaysia and Iran have garnered enormous support from the greater Muslim majority to lead the Ummah. Meanwhile, Turkey, which already had relations with Israel, now has jumped into competition with Saudi Arabia for the overall Muslim Leadership role. Due to Turkey’s rich cultural history and linkages with the golden Islamic empire “Ottoman Empire”, Turkey under Erdogan sees itself as the rightful heir to the throne of Muslim leadership.
The dilemma for Pakistan’s foreign policy in this situation is of grave concern. As being home to the second largest Muslim population and the only nuclear-powered Muslim state, both the Saudi-led bloc and Turkey-led bloc are trying to integrate Pakistan with themselves. The crisis and its intensity for Pakistan’s policymakers could be witnessed by the recent event of the Kula Lumpur Summit from which Pakistan withdrew at the last moment. The reason given by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s administration was more of face-saving rhetoric, meanwhile, the intellectual circles announced that it was Saudi Arabia who pressurized Pakistan to refrain from joining the summit otherwise they would ask Pakistan to repay their deferred oil payments and also threatened to expatriate Pakistan labors from Saudi Arabia and UAE.
Kashmir issue became the prominent cause of deteriorating ties with Saudi Arabia as it refused to call an OIC meeting over Indian aggression on Kashmir and stripping Kashmir of its autonomous status during the black day of August 5th. Also, the opening up with Israel contradicting the ideological existence of Pakistan led the foreign policy experts to diversify their relations with Turkey. Also, Turkey had openly supported Pakistan’s stance over Kashmir. Not only the Kashmir and ideological issues solve Pakistan’s dilemmas. Pakistan also faces a severe shortage of energy and funds to buy energy sources. So, the Saudi-led bloc provides Pakistan with the much-needed energy resources on deferred payments and also helps Pakistan’s economic woes by keeping billions of dollars in Pakistan’s account. Meanwhile, the Turkey-led bloc provides support to Pakistan’s geopolitical interest within the region. So, alienating any bloc could be detrimental to Pakistan’s ideological and economic interests. Resultantly, there is a dire need for a balancing strategy through which Pakistan could maneuver and reaps the maximum benefits through its relations with both Saudi and Turkey-led blocs. The leadership role among the Muslim Ummah now hangs in the balance as the deteriorating relationship between Saudi Arabia and Turkey has intensified. Meanwhile facing itself at the crossroads of this rivalry, Pakistan can play a greater role in defining the true leader of the Muslim world. Saudi Arabia has lost its ideological charm of being the leader of the Muslim world, as it is now involved in wars in Yemen and tacitly supporting Israel. UAE with openly establishing ties with Israel makes the Muslim world feel betrayed with many other Arab nations following suit. In such a situation, Turkey has excellently filled the growing vacuum and highlighted its potential through its soft power to be the alternative leader to Saudi Arabia in the Muslim world. For Pakistan, the case is complex. Pakistan assuming the leadership role seems a distant dream. The reasons for economic dependency and fewer civilization linkages with the Arab world make it even harder for Pakistan to assume the role of Muslim leadership, especially when it would be equal to standing against Saudi Arabia. The only possible outcome for Pakistan in the complex leadership rivalry is to maintain a balancing approach between Saudi Arabia and Turkey-led bloc. Pakistan must maintain the logic of rationality as it can’t afford to alienate any of the blocs while having economic and energy resources issues. As an ideologically created Muslim country, Pakistan has seen several ups and downs in its foreign policy decisions vis-à-vis Muslim states around the world. The initial years saw great brotherly relations with countries, which were soon strained by the wrongful thinking of the following Pakistani leadership and their decision to join the western led bloc. The foreign policy has always remained subservient to political figures, it was the personality of Bhutto who amended the many wrongs done before his arrival at the foreign office as foreign minister. But, soon again Pakistan plunged into the darkness of foreign policy mistakes, and the western tilt, along with conflicts between the Muslim nation over Israel and global Islamic leadership has brought Pakistan to the crossroads once again. Any foreign policy decision in the leadership of the Muslim Ummah must be carefully carved out of the geopolitical environment as it brings itself serious repercussions and consequences if the balance is not maintained between the recent leadership row between Saudi Arabia and Turkey.