Apart from the 3 million Pakistanis who work in Gulf states, and the $4 billion in annual transactions they make, the region considers relations with Pakistan strategic. The country is not viewed as a mere trading party or another Muslim nation. Pakistan has always been considered part of the formula of regional balance with Iran, Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. There have been military agreements with it via undeclared contracts and alliances.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have worked to bridge the gap, even when U.S. pressure on Pakistan intensified following the Sept. 11 attacks. Back then, Washington believed Islamabad was lenient when dealing with terrorist threats, and some parties accused Pakistan of obstructing U.S. plans regarding war and governance in Afghanistan.
Gulf countries consider Pakistan a strategic ally, and a provider of regional balance aimed at preventing Iranian unilateralism and chaos.Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Pakistan’s military capabilities qualify it to play a balancing role in the region, whereby it is a deterrent against Iranian expansionism, which has increased following the nuclear deal. Despite tensions, I do not think the situation will deteriorate into military conflict between major regional countries. However, an active Pakistani presence in the Middle East, and particularly the Gulf, will provide regional stability and security, and enhance Islamabad’s international influence.
Pakistan has succeeded in avoiding military confrontation with its bigger neighbor India, despite their many previous conflicts. Despite Pakistan's influence in Afghanistan, it has also overlooked what the Americans - who are always suspicious of Islamabad’s secret activity there - are doing.
Since Pakistan is militarily stronger than its neighbor Iran, with which it shares a 900-kilometer border, Tehran has avoided a confrontation with Islamabad, although it has not stopped inciting sectarian tensions in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Iran has been keen to tempt Islamabad by talking of building a gas pipeline through Pakistan - a plan that has always been delayed by regional crises, geopolitical issues, and sanctions on Iran that prevented bilateral trade. Even if Tehran implements the plan, Pakistani interests with Arab Gulf countries are of bigger value commercially, politically and religiously.
Pakistan has played a balancing role with Iran in the Gulf since the 1970s, and its weight increased as Tehran’s threats against Gulf countries increased in the 1980s. Consecutive Pakistani governments have strengthened relations with the Gulf since then. Gulf countries consider Pakistan a strategic ally, and a provider of regional balance aimed at preventing Iranian unilateralism and chaos.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Jan. 14 , 2016.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.
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