Pakistan’s Misguided Stance in the Iran-Saudi Dispute
Sharing long borders and vested mutual interests in regional stability with Iran, Pakistan ought to know the importance of good neighborly relations with Iran instead of allowing itself to be provoked by Saudi Arabia and others to turn against Iran and acting as their proxy. Yet, this elemental fact has been sadly overlooked as some Pakistani officials have seen fit to play in the hands of Saudi Arabia, thus forfeiting Pakistan's vital national interests dictating cordial relations with Iran.
Case in point, according to press reports, Pakistan's chief of army staff, General Raheel Sharif, recently played host to the visiting Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman at a military base in Rawalpindi and vowed "to wipe Iran off the face of the earth if any harm came to Saudi Arabia." By all accounts, this is the first time that Iran has been subjected to an implicit, albeit transparent, nuclear threat by Pakistan and, clearly, it is totally unacceptable. General Sharif ought to be rebuked by the Pakistani government immediately and the Prime Minister should explicitly distance himself from such outrageous hostile expressions against Iran, a country that by his own admission is an important neighbor with whom there are on-going discussions about the energy pipelines, desperately needed by Pakistan.
At the same time, the mere fact that a Pakistani general has seen fit to issue a veiled nuclear threat against Iran is quite disconcerting to Iran, which has denounced nuclear weapons as amoral and has entered into a nuclear deal with the world powers, pledging to steer clear of nuclear bombs now and in the future. Iran is of course concerned about nuclear proliferation in its vicinity and has advocated the implementation of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East. It goes without saying, however, that Pakistan's cozy relations with the Iranophobic Saudi government and its threat against Iran are bound to influence Iran's strategic calculations and may result in certain reconsideration of Iran's national security approaches if such threats continue.
One thing the Pakistani rulers ought to know is that with the bigger and more powerful India locking nuclear horns with them for a long time, Pakistan can indeed ill-afford thinning its resources by diverting its precious resources against Iran, which is well-prepared to deal with and react to all sorts of contingencies. Pakistan has now opened an open wound in its relations with Iran by making the above-said threat, which will linger in Iran's collective memory for a long time; the only remedy is an explicit official Pakistani rebuke of General Sharif's irresponsible statement.
Looking through the darkly glass, with the security situation in Afghanistan remaining precarious, affecting Pakistan's own security first and foremost, Pakistan should clearly refrain from any anti-Iran provocations that may engulf Afghanistan as well, given the intense Pakistani-Indian competition in the region. A more explicit pro-India tilt in Iran's foreign policy may be forthcoming in light of the explicitly hostile anti-Iran pronouncements cited above. Can Pakistan really afford such unwanted shifts in regional realignment? The answer is clearly no.
Henceforth, Pakistan, which has a sizable Shiite minority, should keep to its own hat and stay clear of Iran-Saudi rift, which is mainly due to the proximate and long-term root causes of internal instability in Saudi Arabia, which has refused to thread the path of political modernization and, as rightly stated by Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, must choose between the alternatives of stability and extremism. Sadly, consumed by their unbounded Iranophobia, the new Saudi leadership has shown little sign of willingness and or ability to make the right choice. Pakistan should not be dragged in the Saudi mess of their own making.