Alalamalislami: The [so-called anti-terror] coalition formed by Saudi Arabia is unreliable and the result of a hasty decision, which casts doubt on the essence of forming coalition.
Q: Are the ongoing regional issues as well as the issue of forming a coalition against terrorist groups good grounds to help open a new chapter in relations between Islamabad and Iran?
A: The [so-called anti-terror] coalition formed by Saudi Arabia is unreliable and the result of a hasty decision, which casts doubt on the essence of forming coalition. Pakistan has voiced its protest to this issue since the very beginning. However, two factors must be taken into account in this regard. Firstly, bilateral relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have various political, military, economic and security aspects. Secondly, for a long time, Saudi Arabia has given positive answers to Pakistan’s requests and demands or helped Pakistan’s economic dreams come true. Today, Saudi Arabia needs Pakistan’s help and wants Pakistan to help its dreams come true. This is a justified expectation. For many years, Saudi Arabia has served as supporter of Pakistan. Although today and in view of developments in Pakistan’s security sphere, serious protests are heard from within Pakistan against Saudi Arabia, though such protesting voices have nothing to do with official positions of the government in Islamabad. Such individuals or groups believe that Saudi Arabia’s role in Pakistan is not constructive. Therefore, taking into account all realities on the ground in Pakistan, we would see that under present circumstances in the region, this country does not want [to be engaged in a new] conflict and is not willing to become a victim to Saudi Arabia’s demands. This is Pakistan’s general approach to the new issue of forming coalition [with Saudi Arabia].
Q: This is the second time that Pakistan has turned down Riyadh's requests to take part in [Saudi-led] military interventions – in Yemen and Syria. What is the reason behind such an explicit opposition [with Saudi Arabia’s request]? Is Pakistan concerned about spread of terrorism to its own geographic region? Meanwhile, Pakistan has announced that it does not want its relations with Saudi Arabia to cause damage to its ties with Iran.
A: Pakistan is taking care of its relations with Iran in order to keep them safe and dynamic. Of course, Pakistan has not been able to strengthen relations with Iran in proportion to the size and scale of its capacity and Islamabad has not been also able to show the same extent of determination that exists in Tehran. However, if Islamabad had made good use of the capacity of its relations with Iran, its conditions would have been very much better, at least with respect to the energy sector. Pakistan looks at its relations with Iran with care in order to prevent them from being overshadowed by other regional issues. This is a prudent policy. On the other hand, a large portion of Pakistan’s population is made up of Shias and they cannot be made a victim to political plans made by other countries. For example, soon after the beginning of Saudi Arabia’s military onslaught on Yemen, the government in Riyadh was very hopeful about getting help from Pakistan. They asked Pakistan to send a military unit, which would be totally made up of Sunnis without any Shia Muslim in its composition. This issue drew sharp criticism from Pakistani press. Pakistani papers wrote ‘why Saudi Arabia should request this from us? Because we do not have such differentiation in our military and administrative affairs. Therefore, if Saudi Arabia generalizes such demarcation and differentiation to the entire Pakistani society, this request will not be tolerated by the society, statesmen and even military figures of Pakistan’. Therefore, the second issue was Pakistan’s Shias, which make up about 20 percent or one-fifth of the country’s population. The third issue is that Pakistani army is already grappling with domestic issues and unrest along its borders. Is such an army ready to get involved in a new case in the region and become a victim to demands of other regional powers? As for Daesh, it must be noted that this issue does not pose a major threat to Pakistan and even Afghanistan, because the Taliban has both roots, and motivation and geographical backing in those countries. However, if Daesh enters Pakistan, it would certainly not have motivation and driving forces as powerful as the Taliban. Therefore, the presence of Daesh in the geographical expanse of the Indian Subcontinent is not a very concerning issue.
Q: Do new remarks made by Pakistan’s deputy foreign minister about Islamabad’s support for the legal government of Syrian President Bashar Assad mean that Pakistan is trying to secure a sphere of influence or interests in Syria? What could be Syria’s position for Pakistan from this viewpoint?
A: Pakistani officials have announced that the issue of Syria is a domestic issue and the fate of the country must be decided by Syrian forces. They have opposed military intervention in Syria. Of course, [Pakistan’s] support [for the Syrian government] is also in line with some political wills in the region. Countries like Iran, Iraq and Russia have offered certain ideas and Pakistan is looking at the issue of Syria through those ideas. Of course, it is not likely that Pakistan would seek to secure any special interests in this regard, because Pakistan does not have any common border with Syria, nor their relations have ever been of a special quality. Pakistan, however, pursues an independent policy as a result of which it has not supported intervention by foreign forces in Syria and considers it as being detrimental to the Arab country. When it comes to this issue, Pakistan’s opinion is in line with the aforesaid countries.
Q: If Saudi Arabia asked Pakistan to get involved in regional issues, especially the situation in Syria, would Pakistan give a negative answer to Saudi Arabia again?
A: When it comes to taking military decisions, Pakistan’s priority is to meet its own needs first. Pakistan is worried about security within its borders. A large part of northern regions of Pakistan have been damaged after the beginning of anti-terror operations in 2014 and infrastructure has been destroyed in those regions. A large part of people living in those regions has immigrated to other cities and the government now is forced to find new settlements for them. Pakistan, in cooperation with Afghanistan, is planning a joint fight against militants. The degree of mutual trust that exists in this plan is a different issue. Pakistan is trying to use its capacity to put in order both the situation within its borders, and conditions in the region as well as in neighboring countries. Therefore, Pakistan is not capable of dispatching military force to outside of such geographical regions as South Asia and the Indian Subcontinent.