Pakistan has broken with its nonalignment position toward the Syrian civil war, officially siding with Saudi Arabia, according to reports from regional newspapers. During a meeting between the Saudi defense minister and a delegation of high-ranking Pakistani officials including the Prime Minister, the two countries agreed on a statement that broadly supports the Saudi side of the Syrian civil war.The Express Tribune reports:
A joint statement issued after the Saudi dignitary’s meetings with the top civil and military leadership in Islamabad clearly suggests a shift in Pakistan’s policy on Syria. Until now, Islamabad had not taken sides in an attempt to maintain a delicate balance in its ties with both Riyadh and Tehran, which are at odds over the Syrian conflict.Official sources told The Express Tribune that the recent flurry of visits by top Saudi officials were aimed at persuading Islamabad to support Riyadh on Syria after it lost faith in the US administration to oust Assad’s regime.
Pakistan has covertly supported the Saudi effort in the Syrian civil war for some time now. Frustrated with the lack of American action in supporting the Syrian rebels against the Assad regime, Saudi Arabia turned to Pakistan for help in training and arming them. Now, however, Pakistani support for Saudi Arabia’s efforts in Syria is official. One part of the joint statement released during the Saudi defense minister’s visit states that both countries will work toward “the formation of transitional governing body with full executive powers enabling it to take charge of the affairs of the country”—the implication being that Assad should no longer govern.The Pak-Saudi alignment comes at a particularly difficult moment in Islamabad’s relationship with Iran, which is arming and supplying the Assad regime against the Saudi-funded rebels. Iranian soldiers were recently kidnapped by insurgents operating in Pakistan’s remote Balochistan province. Iran has threatened to invade Pakistani territory in order to rescue them, something Pakistan says is completely out of the question. So far the soldiers remain missing.But the agreement with the Saudis could have negative effects for Pakistan. For one thing, the Iran-Pakistan natural gas pipeline, which could have huge benefits for Pakistan’s decrepit electricity grid, will probably be further delayed. Aligning with Saudi Arabia could also further alienate Pakistan’s sizable Shia population (second largest in the world after Iran’s), which sometimes looks to Iran as a protector. Pakistani Shiites will remember that it was Gulf money that fueled the madrasas in Pakistan where the Taliban were raised.But ultimately the Saudi agreement with Pakistan reflects poorly on the Obama administration’s leadership in the Middle East. Riyadh is prepared to seek out other friends who can better help its efforts to unseat Butcher Assad, and Pakistan has shown itself willing.