Pakistan’s Middle East Policy: Prospect’s and Challenges

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In retrospect, driven through indigenous social, economic exigencies, emboldened by the religious affinity, Pakistan’s Middle East policy is based on the historical nexus, region’s power dynamics, underpinned by sectarian configurations, and its strengths and weaknesses. Ever since inception, Islamabad aspire to build cordial ties with the majority of Middle Eastern state based on the principles of peaceful coexistence, positive-sum gains. Likewise, respecting mutual sovereignty, integrity and non-interventionist policy in domestic affairs of all the countries of the region remains an integral component of diplomatic outreach. Furthermore, Pakistan also vows inclusive, sustainable multilateral, engagement in the sphere of defense, security, economy, religion, and social affairs with the key actors. Besides, Preferential diplomatic treatment to the powerhouses of the Middle East in particular KSA, UAE whilst cautious approach towards Iran due to geographic proximities, and national security exigencies is another key hallmark of its foreign policy. With the changing regional geopolitical, geo-security dynamics, Pakistan also playing a proactive role in conflict mediation, a continuation of peace-keeping efforts to end the hostile configurations (fallouts of Arab Spring- Yamen, Syrian crisis) of asymmetric warfare and inter-state conflicts in the Middle East at large. In the realm of geo-economics, economic diplomacy remained the main pillar of foreign policy towards all the Middle East states to attract foreign direct investment and promote trade, promotion of CPEC. And in broader prospects, Persistent engagement with Muslim states through the OIC forum remains the cornerstone of its policy initiatives. As far as regional protracted conflicts are concerned, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, enduring support to Palestine narrative, and staunch advocacy of Palestine rights of freedom at all the global forums hold the key essence while shaping dynamics of the ties. It is pertinent to mention that safeguarding the interests of the Pakistani Diaspora in the region is the most valuable aspect of foreign policy goals. Herein, Pakistan also opts Policy of neutrality towards Shia-Sunni Blocs of the Middle East. In contemporary times, the policymakers express resolve for deepening the prospects of Track II diplomacy, P2P linkages. Attainment of favorable assistance from the Middle East states in particular the GCC forum over its narrative on Kashmir at the state level and regional forums of the Arab world.

Despite persistent diplomatic efforts vis-à-vis goals attainment, Pakistan faces certain challenges in the region. Firstly, Pakistan faces numerous constraints to create a balance between Tehran-Riyadh bloc conflicts due to its influence on the domestic structure. Secondly, Israel’s normalization ties are a new political divergent point between Pakistan and key actors of Middle Eastern states. Thirdly, Pakistan also faces hindrance to overcome looming perceptions of “political subservient” to Powerful actors of the Middle East such as the UAE, KSA due to domestic exigencies. Fourthly, indirect implications of sectarian conflicts of Middle East on the social fabric of Pakistan, leading to religious fragmentation domestically. Fifthly, the Subtleness of policy principles of Middle Eastern regimes towards Pakistan as it dominated with choices of leadership rather persistent engagement. Sixthly, Influence of domestic exigencies (Economic constraints, political turmoil) on the foreign policy decision-making imperatives vis-a-vis the Middle East.

One of the most daunting challenges for Islamabad is growing Indian engagement in the Middle East. It holds immense significance for India due to its economic interests, Around 9 million-strong Indian diaspora in the region, contributes $5 trillion to the Indian economy. India largely dependent on the oil supply from the Middle East region and a new policy has been coined by the Modi government–’Link West’ through which multilayered connectivity is to be built. The rapid developmental activities were taking place in GCC states. It holds better economic relations with the majority of the regional actors. Another key factor it holds a favorable environment to pursue its agendas, as it seeks support from the US, Israel to pave the path for establishing ties. Its economic relations with the power aspirants in the region- Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Israel and this notion provides it an ideal condition to transcend its relations with the Arab world. The engagement with Israel and the mutual visits by Modi and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also can be seen as changes in India’s Middle East policy. Notably, Iran-India ties have been solely based on energy, Iran would have drifted away from India. However, Iran’s geographical position is paramount to India’s geopolitical outreach, especially to Central Asia, a rich reservoir of natural resources. India has also activated lobbies to gain favorable support from the Middle East over the Kashmir issue. To conclude, despite numerous constraints Pakistan has made remarkable diplomatic accomplishments to ensure its sphere of influence in the regional diplomatic caucus.

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