Categorized | South Asian Politics

Pakistan and the Iran-Saudi Arabia Competition

Posted on 31 March 2016 by admin

Dr. Hasan Askari

 Iran’s President Dr. Hassan Rowhani visited Islamabad on March 25-26 as a part of his effort to return Iran to the international system after the United States, the European states and the United Nations began the withdrawal of sanctions against Iran. President Rowhani visited some of European capitals. Now he came to Pakistan. In addition to seeking more active economic relations and trade, President Hassan Rowhani has another objective in mind. He wants counter-balance Saudi Arabia’s efforts get Pakistani militarily support for its military agenda in Yemen and Syria.

 President Rowhani’s visit Islamabad produced several agreement for greater economic cooperation and trade. They also explored the options to expand their bilateral trade and the gas pipeline project came under discussion. They also discussed the Iranian proposal for supplying electricity to Pakistan.

 There is a lot of scope for the expansion of trade and they plan to give special attention to this sector. Further, they also want to cooperate for controlling terrorism and better control to check smuggling and illegal movement of people. Though Pakistan has shown interest in the completion of the gas pipeline project, it is difficult to suggest if this project can complete soon. The United States and Saudi Arabia are not in favor of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. Instead both are supportive of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistani-India (TAPI) gas pipeline.

 Pakistan and Iran have maintained friendly relations but they have faced difficulties in their relations because Saudi Arabia often competes with Iran for building influence in the region, including Pakistan.

 The tradition of political rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia goes back to the period of the Shah of Iran. The Shah often projected himself was the main regional power. Saudi Arabia often challenged this contention. However the political situation remained under control because both were close to the United States that restrained their ambitions and mutual jealousies.

 After the Iranian Islamic Revolution (February 1979), Iran’s revolutionary zeal targeted Saudi Arabia as a conservative monarchical system that maintained close relations with the United States. Iran’s relations with the United States had also deteriorated after Iranian revolutionary young people captured the American Embassy in Tehran and took some Americans as hostage. Saudi Arabia that enjoyed American support felt perturbed by the revolutionary profile of Iran. However, the trouble in Iran-U.S. relations meant that Saudi Arabia could depend on American support for Saudi Agenda in its competition with Iran for power and influence in the area.

 In 2016, Iran’s relations have improved after the nuclear deal between Iran and five permanent members of the UN and Germany. This has also created opportunities for Iran to sell its oil and gas to other countries and engage in trade with the European states, the U.S., and other countries. This is expected to boost Iran’s economy in the next 5 to 7 years.

 The patch-up between Iran and the U.S., has created new opportunities for Iran for building influence in the region. Iran is expected to pursue an active diplomatic policy. It has increased its political and material support to Houthi tribe and their allies in Yemen, President Bashar-al-Asad in Syria and the Hamas movement in Gaza. Saudis were perturbed on these developments because Saudi Arabia supported the opponents of the pro-Iran political forces in the region.

 Saudi complaint is that Iran’s support to the rivals of Saudi Arabia in Yemen, Syria and Iraq was the cause of conflict in the region. In other words the Saudi Arabia argues that Iran is creating security threats for Saudi Arabia and its allies in the region.

 It is because of the fear of that Saudi Arabia is now building regional coalition and political partnership for enhancing its influence in the region and undercut Iran’s regional agenda. Saudi Arabia also wants to restrain Iran from providing financial and military support to its allies.

 Such a competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia has created problems for Pakistan from time to time. Pakistan has maintained a very close diplomatic interaction with Saudi Arabia. In addition to a very large number of Pakistani professionals and labor working in Saudi Arabia, it has extended more economic assistance to Pakistan than any other Muslim state. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has a strong personal relations with the Royal family because the latter saved Nawaz Sharif from imprisonment during the Musharraf rule. Further, one of the sons of Nawaz Sharif maintains business interests in Saudi Arabia. All this makes Nawaz Sharif soft towards Saudi Arabia.

 Now Saudi Arabia wants Pakistan to make available its troops for fighting in Yemen in support of pro-Saudi leadership. Pakistan has expressed support to Saudi Arabia. Pakistan has several hundred military personnel based in the Kingdom in advisory capacity. In the past, the Pakistan Army personnel undertook active security assignment within the territorial boundaries of Saudi Arabia.

 Pakistan has recently participated in the counter-terrorism military exercises in Saudi Arabia along with 19 other states. Pakistan Prime Minister and the Army Chief together visited Saudi Arabia in January and March 2016 and watched the military exercises on the last day. Pakistan has also joined the Saudi sponsored 34 states military alliance for coping with terrorist and other threats.

 Iran knows about Pakistan’s leanings towards conservative Islamic Kingdoms in the Gulf region. It did not engage in public condemnation of Pakistan. Rather, Iran’s leadership has shown much flexibility towards Pakistan. It has offered several attractive propositions and sought to expand trade relations in order to create an economic interdependence between Iran and Pakistan.

 We would know in a month or so if Pakistan will completely identify with Saudi Arabia and its regional approach or it will seek to build a balance between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The government of Pakistan. If Pakistan’s economic relations and trade improve with Iran and the gas pipeline is constructed, we would assume that Pakistan’s policy towards the Middle East is influenced by practical considerations.

Leave a Reply

Advertise Here
Advertise Here