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Balancing Iran
Key Saudi Ally Visits Pakistan, Promises Investment

On Tuesday, Bahrain’s King Khalifa arrived in Pakistan for a three-day visit. Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif explained the reasons for the visit: “We would welcome Bahraini investments in mega projects in the field of energy, downstream oil industry, port development, mining and minerals, infrastructure, banking and financial sectors,” he said, according to The Express Tribune.

The more interesting explanation for King Khalifa’s visit, perhaps, involves the budding Pakistani-Saudi friendship. Bahrain’s government is closely allied with neighboring Saudi Arabia. When Shia-led protests threatened to dethrone Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy during the Arab Spring, Saudi Arabia sent troops and also sought Pakistani help to put down the rebellion.

In recent weeks, Pakistan has shifted away from its carefully maintained neutrality in the Syrian civil war: It has called for an interim government, which could only happen if Assad were removed from power. Just a few days after it did this, a mysterious tranche of $1.5 billion arrived at the Pakistan Development Fund, donated by “a friendly Muslim country.” One week later, Bahrain’s king arrived promising more of the same.

Pakistan has denied that it has changed its policy on Syria to more closely align with the Saudi position. Its national security adviser even suggested that Sharif would be visiting Iran in the coming months in order to reaffirm Pakistan’s continued neutrality. But the government’s statements do little to account for Pakistan’s coffers being suddenly so flush with cash; nor does it explain why the Bahraini monarch chose to visit so soon after. Nobody just hands over $1.5 billion.

Pakistan’s receptivity to these overtures is a coup for Saudi Arabia, which is attempting to recruit regional powers to outmaneuver Iran.

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