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Middle East Mess
Riyadh and Islamabad: Closer Than Ever

Before the Iran nuclear deal was in the cards, a BBC report alleged that Pakistan was ready to ship nukes to Saudi Arabia at a moment’s notice. While official sources from both countries denied the report, the bonhomie between Pakistan and the oil-rich Arab sheikhs is undeniable—and increasingly close.

Pakistan’s new army chief, arguably the most powerful man in the country, recently wrapped up his first foreign visit to none other than Saudi Arabia. As The National reports:

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are expected to sign an agreement on security and defence cooperation when the kingdom’s crown prince visits Islamabad this weekend.

The trip comes after a flurry of meetings between defence and military officials from the two countries, part of a concerted effort to strengthen their relationship as the United States recalibrates its approach to the region.

Now that the possibility of an Iran-United States rapprochement has increased, the Gulf Arabs are looking to Pakistan as a possible counterweight. Pakistan is heavily armed, with nukes to spare. The Pakistanis are allegedly training Saudi-backed Syrian rebels in Saudi Arabia. They also helped the Kingdom put down a predominantly Shia rebellion in Bahrain in the wake of the Arab Spring. After decades of cooperation during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the puritanical strain of Wahhabi Islam prevalent in the Gulf has also taken root in Pakistan, bringing the two ideologically together. Pakistan itself is going through a political and economic crisis, and it is increasingly dependent on oil imports and loan programs to keep the economy afloat. As the United States draws down its presence, these handouts must now come from other sources. The Gulf States fit the bill.

In separate but not unrelated incidents, Pakistan’s rise in extremism has rendered its sizable Shia minority vulnerable. The extreme right has accused Shia of conducting “Iranian-backed terrorism.” A long-standing plan on an Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline has stalled, and violence on the Iran-Pakistan border has made the movement of pilgrims, tourists, and good uncertain.

Courting the oil-rich Arab nation nations of the Persian Gulf has been Pakistan’s foreign policy objective since the 1970s. As it gets chummier with the likes of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the shift might destabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan even more.

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  • Kavanna

    There’s no chance of an Iran-US rapprochment — it’s time has come, and gone. What’s going on here is the result of the continuing implosion of American influence, thanks to the ignorant and incompetent antics of Obama, Kerry, et al.

  • Bretzky1

    “Now that the possibility of an Iran-United States rapprochement has increased”

    Yeah, from no chance to one in a billion.

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