Staying On The Fence

Barely a week after the Middle Eastern countries made a show of force and unity under the Saudi Arabia led Arab coalition, deep rifts have appeared among the members, deeper than any previous superficial disagreement between the Gulf States. While the implications of this latest development for Middle Eastern peace are manifold, the severing of ties between Qatar and Saudi Arabia affects Pakistan too – once more it has been put on the spot to pick a side.

For decades Saudi Arabian politics in Middle East has been a reductive “us or them” ultimatum delivered to nations over their relations with Iran. Despite consciously trying to maintain a middle ground, Pakistan has been sucked into committing to the Saudis time and again in the face of political pressure. While the Qatar row does not seem to be as ideologically entrenched as the Saudi-Iran divide, the allegations made against the country and the stringent actions taken by Saudi Arabia and its allies like Egypt have created a similar antagonistic divide; a divide that Pakistan will have to make up its mind about. Will Pakistan be forced to follow the ban on Qatar Airways or sever diplomatic ties?

There certainly will be pressure on Pakistan to do so, but considering how other Gulf and Middle Eastern states – more diplomatically and geographically close to Saudi Arabia – have refrained from doing so, Pakistan will be able to resist the pressure too – as it should. The row stems in part from Qatar’s support of Iran on some issues and can be seen as an extension of that conflict, as per Pakistan’s states foreign policy, it should refrain from drawn into this conflict.

The incidental effects will still be there though; trade, air travel and other connections with Qatar will undergo some strain, even if they are not consciously disrupted.

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