Pakistan’s recent decision to tilt its Syria policy toward Saudi Arabia and its proxies at the expense of Iran has far-reaching consequences for the region.This shift has brought more than refreshed rhetoric; Pakistan is reportedly aiding rebel factions with weapons and training. According to this Gulfnews report, Pakistan aims “to provide anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets to Syrian rebels to try to tip the balance in the war to overthrow President Bashar Al Assad.” This was previously impossible, because the United States didn’t allow lethal aid to rebel groups it didn’t trust. But ever since the possibility of rapprochement with Iran has come up, the Kingdom started looking elsewhere for support, including a very needy Pakistan. As this op-ed in the Express Tribune explains, Pakistan has a lot of reasons to side with Saudi Arabia:
The growing activism in Saudi Arabia-Pakistan relations under Nawaz Sharif … can be explained with reference to Pakistan’s dire economic needs. Pakistan expects to get financial support in the form of loans, aid, investment, more jobs for Pakistanis, and supply of oil and gas on favourable terms from conservative but rich kingdoms. Furthermore, Nawaz Sharif and his family have special reverence for the House of Saud because it saved them from the clutches of Musharraf’s military government in December 2000.
Still, there’s a reason the United States didn’t want to give weapons to the rebels. As the war has gone on, the jihadist groups, including al-Qaeda representatives ISIS and the Nusra Front, have emerged as the stronger factions among the rebels. Without American temperance, Saudi Arabia is free to embolden its questionable proxies by handing out Pakistani weapons (moved in through Jordan, the report states).The move will probably make the war deadlier, Iran angrier, and leave Pakistan caught in a regional struggle it ought to have kept clear of.