Pakistan’s Middle East Conundrum

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Pakistan needs a reassessment of the efficacy of its foreign policy towards the Middle East. Given the changing political dynamics in the region, it should be receptive to realigning its priorities. The civil-military leadership of Pakistan must consider the implications of the growing normalization of ties with Israel by Gulf countries and accordingly make any re-adjustment to the fast-changing realities on the ground. The latest announcement of the Israeli President’s upcoming visit to the UAE by the end of January speaks volumes of the fluidity of relations and the speed with which changes take place in the volatile region.

Undoubtedly, the changes are consequential for Pakistan in creating diplomatic challenges for Pakistan’s rational and considered neutrality between Iran and KSA. Historically, Pakistan has always struggled to maintain a policy of neutrality — or let’s call it to balance — between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Pakistan enjoys a long-term strategic partnership with the KSA backed by the various economic, defense, and military-to-military cooperation agreements, not to mention the religious affinities that underscore this bond. At the same time, it has also been very conscious of Iran’s genuine concerns when it comes to managing its ties with Saudi Arabia and has been making great strides in enhancing the spectrum of cooperation with Iran too.

It is, therefore, crucial to understand the changing dynamics and the future trajectory of the triad -Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran- and define Pakistan’s role in it. Pakistan should do a careful cost-benefit analysis and adopt a pragmatic approach to secure its national interest, strategic and brotherly relationship with the Gulf countries, and strategically important neighboring Iran.

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