Pakistan’s Take in Improved Iran-KSA Ties
Dr. Atique Ur Rehman
Since end of cold war, US has been a dominant player in Middle East politics. A combination of disturbances, uprising and civil wars in the regions, shale energy revolution and rivalry between US and China has gradually transformed the geo-politics of Middle East. US stepped back from diplomatic leadership in the region and vacuum has been suddenly filled by China.
Evolving geo-politics, out of this complex situation, has brought Iran and Saudi Arabia closer. It is highly unexpected development which reflects the change of strategy by oil rich nations in the region. China mediated between two arch rivals and brought them on negotiating table to diffuse the existing tension. It might be a shift in Chinese foreign policy, as well, to intervene in regional conflicts. It is indeed a big leap forward in many ways and it will have a positive impact on regional trade and security situation.
On Saturday, 17 June, 2023, Saudi Arabia resumed diplomatic relations with Iran by inaugurating its embassy in Tehran which was closed in 2016. Dialogue between both countries started in December 2022 in Beijing. China has been mediating between both rival Muslim countries to bring them on table for a collective good of Middle East and the world. It is a major geo-political development in a highly contested global environment.
Iran and Saudi Arabia’s rivalry has been one of the biggest reason of unrest in whole of Middle East. The Middle East geo-strategic landscape is mostly shaped by sectarianism. Shia and Sunni states have chosen sectarian priority for country-to-country relations. Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is also split on same reasons. Qatar was ousted from GCC since it had inclination towards Iran. Saudi Arabia and UAE led a campaign against Qatar to get it out of GCC. Middle East has been witnessing a tit for tat situation. Saudi Arabia has been countering Iran via supporting Israel because Iran and Israel do not enjoy good relations. Iran supports Hezbollah, a banned outfit which has been declared terrorist by US. Iran’s support to Hezbollah aims to hurt Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Iran had strained relations with Saudi Arabia due to many reasons and recently due to hidden support by Iran to Houthis rebels in Yemen. Russian has been backing Iran for its destabilizing role in the region. This complex web of relationship in Middle East leaves behind many pitfall among strategic allies and relationships that are directly or indirectly impacted by what goes on in these proxy wars. Pakistan’s decision to join the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen deeply strained its relationship with Iran who supports the Houthis in the Yemeni civil war. This complication of relations among GCC states is troublesome for all regional states including Pakistan. The relations between Pakistan and Iran has always been on the edge due to this particular reason. In the Muslim world, Iran is second largest Shia Muslim country, and, in its neighborhood, Pakistan is home to 16 million Shia population which makes situation for Pakistan more difficult as it struggles to have strategically balanced relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Improved ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia will usher a new era of brotherhood and partnership among Muslim countries across the globe. Iran-Saudi good relations will provide an edge to China in global politics and enhance its influence in Middle East. The cordial relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia is a big breather for Pakistan as well. Pakistan has been trying to have better relations with Iran, but it could not be done at the cost of Saudi Arabia which is time-tested ally of Pakistan. Historically, Saudi Arabia has always come to rescue Pakistan and they have much bigger influence over Pakistan’s domestic politico-religious landscape as compared to Iran. The cordial relations between both Muslim states will also help Pakistan to overcome a major sectarian divide within own country. Pakistan has been concerned over Indian growing relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. India fully exploited the Pakistan’s inability to maintain a balance relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran. Afghanistan’s security is also attached with ongoing turf among between intelligence echlonns of stake holders in the country. New development will bring stability and peace in war torn Afghanistan
Iran is an important state in the global and regional matters in terms of geo-strategic location, energy resources and security matters. Iran is 4th largest reserves of petroleum and natural gas which provide it relevant place in the global energy market. Iran does not only connect Middle East and Gulf with South Asia but also joins it with Central Asia via Turkmenistan. The development of Iran’s Chabahar port is a cornerstone of its multilayered strategy to extend its influence across region. India sought to develop the port in order to bypass Pakistan, thereby, gaining access to Afghanistan and Central Asia. Chabahar port also provides access to international waters. Port is expected to handle 20 million tons of cargo annually and will serve as a multi-nodal transportation hub for India, Iran, and Afghanistan. Chabahar is only 72 km away from Gwadar port and strategically aims to limit the Chinese influence. Recent development in Iran-Saudi relations has marginalized the Indian quest for connectivity to CASs via Chahbahar.
The improved diplomatic outlook is likely to reduce Iran-Israel tension. It is yet to be seen whether US and Israel will only act as an observer to new development or they will use their leverage to bring region back to where it was. For the time being it looks as all regional states in Middle East, south Asia and Russia are main beneficiary of Iran-Saudi improved relations. However, Middle East due to its ongoing fragile security situation does not hold any guarantee for sustainable peace in the region. It will require more of a continuous monitoring, evaluation and deliberated approach by all. Turkey has yet not expressed any policy response on this development. It is just the beginning and a lot more is to be seen before making any solid conclusion of new Middle East situation.
Writer is political commentator and can be reached at email@example.com