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Editorial

November 2, 2018
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Balancing bailouts

Editorial

November 2, 2018

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So far, all we know about Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Saudi Arabia is that he came back with $6 billion in aid and a vague promise to act as a mediator in the Yemeni war. It is difficult to believe that the Saudis simply handed over the money without policy demands of their own and hard to fathom what mediatory role Imran Khan and Pakistan can play, especially now that the US is calling for direct talks between the different factions in Yemen. In the absence of any government clarification, there has naturally been a lot of speculation – most of it centred around Yemen. The PTI itself was at the forefront of parliamentary opposition to involving Pakistan in the war during the PML-N government. It would be ironic if it was now to drag us into what is the biggest humanitarian crisis on the plant today. The Saudi war on Houthi rebels, backed with US equipment, has created a famine and led to a cholera epidemic. This is seen as part of the Saudi-led effort to counter Iran’s influence in the region. Pakistan was already indirectly involved in this larger battle through the appointment of former army chief Raheel Sharif to lead the Saudi anti-terrorism force – something that is seen in Tehran as an explicitly anti-Iran coalition.

For Pakistan, maintaining a balance in relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran is important. Our perceived pro-Saudi tilt has always led Iran to look at us warily. That Pakistan pulled out of the gas pipeline deal because of US sanctions after Iran had already begun work on their end of the pipeline made matters worse. Now, the constant question of border security has cropped up again. Iranian Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif was in Islamabad on Wednesday to discuss the abduction of 14 border guards earlier this month. Iran believes that militants based in Pakistan cross over to carry out attacks on the Iranian side and in the past has even threatened to send its troops across the border to hunt down militants. If Iran believes that Pakistan is about to aid the Saudis against the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen that will only lead to push even harder on the border.

The Saudi-Iran rivalry has led to a realignment of alliances in the Middle East. It is an open secret that most of the Gulf sees Iran as its biggest opponent in the region and so are working with Israel. Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Oman – the first such trip by an Israeli head of state in two decades. Here too there was a fear that Pakistan may be getting itself involved after flight tracking websites showed that a private plane went from Tel Aviv to Islamabad with a brief stopover in Amman. With all the speculations floating around, the government should have been much more honest in its clarifications. The least the people of Pakistan deserve is transparency regarding bailouts by powerful friends.

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