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A New Order
Amid Saudi Summons, Pakistan Prevaricates

Deliberations in Pakistan’s parliament are in their second day over the decision of whether and how to intervene in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Saudi Arabia, which has given Pakistan billions in aid, has called on Islamabad to send ships, planes and troops to help in its efforts to roll back Houthi advances. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, mindful of public opinion which opposes getting involved in a conflict which splits the Islamic ummah, asked parliamentarians to “help guide” the government’s decision.

Beyond fears of inflaming sectarianism within its own borders, Islamabad is afraid of inflaming a long-simmering conflict along its border with Iran and in its own restive Balochistan. In a potent reminder of just how live this issue is, violence flared earlier today, with eight Iranian border guards killed by Sunni militants who escaped back into Pakistan.

Pakistan careful and reluctant calibration has been matched by Turkey, which has also tried to take a measured stance on the conflict. Turkey’s Reccep Tayyip Erdogan is in Tehran today for consultations, and Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, is expected in Islamabad on Wednesday.

Where Pakistan ultimately ends up on this question could be instructive. Saudi Arabia’s longstanding support for Islamabad has been a bet on being able to quickly procure a nuclear deterrent of its own should the situation in the Middle East deteriorate past a certain point of the Kingdom’s comfort. The fact that Pakistan is dragging its feet over Yemen and trying to find a balance between its Saudi patrons and the Iranians may be a wake-up call of sorts for Riyadh.

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  • wigwag

    Does what Prime Minister Sharif and Pakistani parliamentarians think matter all that much? I’ve always been under the impression that the Pakistani military and intelligence services dance to the tune of their own drummers.

    • Kevin

      Yes, I think the key here is Pakistan’s deep state. Not sure what they are up to – Genuinely undecided? Letting the politicians take responsibility for what could be an unpopular decision? Gun shy (after the bombing in Rawalpindi)? Maybe they fear their military would not perform well in a largish exercise of indefinite timeframe so far from home? Holding out for more money from the Saudis? I suspect Pakistan may pay dearly if the Saudis think them unreliable. But maybe they are ready to move on to a new patron – China? (Russia’s almost certainly too poor to keep Pakistan in the style to which it has grown accustomed.)

  • Dan Greene

    “The fact that Pakistan is dragging its feet over Yemen and trying to find a balance between its Saudi patrons and the Iranians may be a wake-up call of sorts for Riyadh.”

    Yes, it should be and it should also be a wake-up call for all those using the “Sunni bomb” as an excuse to stonewall negotiations with Iran.

    Also, love the pejorative “prevaricate” in the title. You can just sense the frustration and displeasure at good old TAI that the Paks don’t want to get involved in Saudi/Israeli scheming in the Middle East. Quite humorous, really.

    • Damir Marusic

      Though I readily admit it’s difficult to know exactly how one comes off, I am nevertheless quite amused at the idea of us gnashing our teeth over this.

      So it goes.

      • Dan Greene

        Well, then we can chortle together.

  • Blackbeard

    And so the Persian Empire marches on. I am amazed, and baffled, by those that somehow think this will be a good thing for us. I get it that, for many, anything that is bad for Israel is then, by definition, good, but in Tehran hey keep chanting “Death to America” too.

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