If no major non-Arab nation has supported the Saudi bloc, so why pressure Pakistan, Saudi Arabia?

Published: June 15, 2017
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it would be very difficult to side with Qatar completely, and ignore the brotherly relations that Pakistan has with the Saudi bloc.

As is often the case in regional conflicts, outside players may feel compelled to toe the line of one of the parties. Thus, in the latest conflict between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt (also known as the Saudi bloc), Pakistan finds itself walking a diplomatic and economic tightrope. That is, until the last few days, when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told King Salman of Saudi Arabia that Pakistan will not be taking sides in the conflict.

As this commentary will illustrate, I believe that this is the commendable choice as it is in Pakistan’s interest to remain neutral, if not lean, towards Qatar based on some key factors.

Will Pakistan pay a price for this neutrality? The first response is why should Pakistan, as a sovereign nation, suffer any consequences for its foreign policy choices? In fact, outside the Arab countries, no major nation has supported the Saudi bloc, so why pressure Pakistan?

However, in the current toxic environment, the Saudi bloc may unfortunately try to blackmail Pakistan using some of its economic leverage, but as I argue, Pakistan is well placed to stand up to any pressure as discussed next.

Economic

While the Saudi bloc holds strong economic leverage with Pakistan on account of nearly $8 billion of remittances to Pakistan (versus about $0.3billion from Qatar), one must remember that the expatriate workers provide an important service to the host country, in a symbiotic relationship. They can’t just be kicked out on account of politics.

Also, while Pakistan’s trade flow with the Saudi bloc is an order higher than with Qatar, majority of the former’s imports to Pakistan are in the form of oil and petroleum products, which Pakistan can easily replace in a surplus petroleum market.

Most important to Pakistan today, however, is Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) as fuel to produce electric power. Qatar, already the largest supplier to Pakistan, is also the most efficient and reliable source of LNG, owing to its close proximity to Pakistan, as well as state of art production facilities and reserves. Resolving Pakistan’s power shortage can boost its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the range of 2-4%, dwarfing any economic loss in case of any negative Saudi bloc action.

Geopolitical

While Saudi Arabia has long exerted soft power in Pakistan, one must remember that much of this was related to leveraging Pakistan’s internal political mess, including the many military coups over years. With the current political stability, it is time for Pakistan to shake off this influence.

Pakistan also maintains strong ties with Saudi’s arch rival, Iran, and should continue to do so. Qatar has more in common with Pakistan in this area than the Saudi bloc as Qatar too maintains better (than Saudi bloc) ties with Iran.

And this forms one of Saudi bloc’s key complains. But it is in both Qatar and Pakistan’s interest to take sides only when its own interests are aligned with the other parties. For example, in Syria, both must join other states against a clear bad actor (Bashar al Assad), and not for sectarian reasons (i.e. Sunni states against Syria/Iran).

Also, Pakistan should take cues from another Muslim nation with strong military power, Turkey. Nuclear Pakistan should be toe to toe with Turkey in terms of exerting global power, yet Pakistan lags behind considerably. Moreover, in the recent anti-terrorism Riyadh Summit, the Saudi bloc gave no respect to both Pakistan and Turkey. While Pakistan should have been at the forefronts of such events, it was relegated to the back-benches. Thus, like Turkey, it is time for Pakistan to exert its own independence (including its approach to Qatar).

Principles

It is important for Pakistan to not forget history. Lessons of the Afghan War and the United States’ fair-weather friendship are still sour in the minds and hearts of Pakistanis. Similarly, Qatar faces a betrayal of sorts from nations who until a week before the crisis were considered brothers. Not only does Qatar share the same religious ideology with Saudi Arabia, ties between their people are extensive as well. Yet, within a week, Qatar became the face of the enemy.

Furthermore, the Saudi bloc is accusing Qatar of funding terrorism, charges that sound very familiar in Pakistan. Even while Pakistan has been one of the biggest victims of terrorism, perceptions to the contrary have flourished, due to clever propaganda. Similarly, Qatar faced a barrage of negative opinionated editorials in American papers over the last few months, to soil its reputation.

Like Pakistan, terrorism charges against Qatar are also quite obscure, and in Qatar’s case, mostly dealing with Syria and Egypt. In terms of supporting the Syrian opposition, both Saudi bloc and Qatar, while united against Assad, have chosen to support different entities at different times. Could some of this money end up in the wrong hands? Absolutely. In fact, any funds from any nation could end up in the wrong hands.

Another complain against Qatar is with regards to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). One must note that the MB was Egypt’s democratically-elected ruling party only a few years ago. Soft links to this movement exist globally, from Turkey to Tunisia, and even to Pakistan (as in Jamaat-e- Islami). So when the Saudi bloc claims that the Islamic State (IS) gets its motivation from MB and paints the entire MB movement as one monolith or the “mother of terrorism”, it is not only simplistic but wrong.

Furthermore, the Saudi bloc dislikes Qatar for allowing offices of the Taliban and Hamas. However, their long time presence has facilitated political dialogue. Even the US has engaged in discussions with the Taliban in Qatar. And Qatar has hosted Palestinian unity efforts. So is this a case of facilitating peace or fomenting terrorism?

Finally, hate towards Al Jazeera, the media channel, unites Saudi bloc against Qatar. Al Jazeera went from being a champion of free Egypt to the main villain following Egypt’s counter-revolution.

Here in Pakistan, we are blessed to have a relatively free press and can appreciate Al Jazeera’s much more independent coverage than any other Arab media outlet. Regardless of Al Jazeera’s coverage, no nation should be able to exert pressure on another to shut off a media channel. Silencing media voices hurts everyone.

Finally, while the Saudi bloc sees Iran as the largest sponsor of terrorism, it continues to maintain diplomatic and economic ties with Iran, reeking of double standards.

Clearly, there is an aggrieved party in this conflict and it is not the Saudi bloc. However, it would be very difficult to side with Qatar completely, and ignore the brotherly relations that Pakistan has with the Saudi bloc. Taking Turkey’s and Kuwait’s lead, Pakistan should continue to hold the neutral course and take on more of a negotiator/mediator role to bring the opposing parties back together.

Amad Shaikh

Amad Shaikh

The author is a Pakistani-American, and founder of MuslimMatters.org, an award-winning webzine/blog representing Muslim voices in the West. He tweets as @amadshk (twitter.com/amadshk)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Saleem

    Years ago, in a US Senate hearing, a US Senator commented that doesn’t house of Saud knows who is keeping them in power? Though that statement is true it is in fact Pakistani boots on the ground that are making that happen and they shouldn’t forget that.Recommend

  • peter pan

    Excellent analysis!Recommend

  • omarsadiq

    Answer is plain and simple, which almost every common Pakistani know and the world takes advantage of; The Pakistani politicians and their undying thirst for dollars! The Pakistani politicians will not only sell the motherland but also their own mothers for a few dollars.Recommend

  • Socaretes

    The dependence on the Saudi’s bloc is of high importance to Pakistan.
    Recall the billion dollars given to the Sharif government at the start of there term. Further you have clearly missed out on the roll played by the Trump. Recommend

  • Ch ink Rat Bas tard

    Because Pakistan is bought and paid forRecommend

  • rajkiran

    Pakistan and Saudi are responsible terrorism throughout the world in the name of sunni supremacy. But they pick a nation of their choice (Qatar) and label it as terrorist is laughable & pathetic.Recommend

  • rajkiran

    Pakistan and Saudi are responsible terrorism throughout the world in the name of religion. But they pick a nation of their choice (Qatar) and label it as terrorist.Recommend

  • Rohan

    Because Pakistan is the in house servant who will do anything to portray itself as an Arab when it’s south Asian Recommend

  • opinionated

    simply because beggars cant be choosers.Recommend

  • wb

    Pakistan has many Daddys (fathers) in the world: USA, China, Saudi, Turkey, India etc. India being the biggest of them.

    Pakistan can never take the side of one Daddy against another Daddy and expect to live in peace.Recommend

  • Mujtaba

    Very well compiled!! I am rrsident of Qatar and in a complete AWE of Saudi’s and UAE’s behavior!! The locals here r much better people than Saudis n emaratis!! Its a nice peaceful place and has mantained Islamic values at the same time…we feel that this is nothing but jealousy factor that has brought Saudi n UAE togather to oppress QatarRecommend

  • Waron Dafe

    Tell are not asking you they are ordering you to join the saudi bloc.Recommend

  • rationalist

    “If no major non-Arab nation has supported the Saudi bloc, so why pressure Pakistan, Saudi Arabia?”
    Don’t Pakistanis claim to be the descendants of Arab Mohammed bin Qasim? Doesn’t Pakistani studies teaches that Pakistan as a nation began with the invasion of Sindh bin Qasim in 700 AD? So Pakistan should support their Arab brothers.Recommend

  • ramanan

    Because Al Bakistan is celebrating RAMADAN , Allah HafizRecommend

  • Adnan Ali

    And who are you Mr, by your name you seem to be minority in Pakistan. Since when did you have the right to call the whole country a servant. Recommend

  • Adnan Ali

    Agreed Mr. Saleem .Recommend

  • Adnan Ali

    History also teaches us about the many times the same Arab brotherhood chose Indian workforce over pakistani brothers on both blue & white collar levels.

    Recommend

  • Adnan Ali

    Yes we are celebrating the holy month. Go celebrate your own festivities.Recommend

  • amadshk

    Doesn’t apply as both parties to conflict are Arab Recommend

  • amadshk

    Trump’s only role is to sit on the sidelines and watch… Saudi bloc just needed America to stay out of it and so far America is complying Recommend

  • amadshk

    Thanks!Recommend

  • amadshk

    It really is a shame… to do this in Ramadan…. just shows that religion is just a cloak for some countriesRecommend

  • amadshk

    As I mentioned — Saudi has had an undue influence due to Pakistans own internal political problems. Now it’s time to shake it off.Recommend

  • amadshk

    Except both parties are Arab. Pls try again. And let’s try to keep Pak India squabble out of this— as this has nothing to do with India.Recommend

  • amadshk

    Exactly… time for Saudi to stop feeling they can boss Pakistan around…Recommend

  • amadshk

    Then stop begging :)Recommend

  • djrehaan

    Probably you have not heard about Rohan Mustaffa Captian UAE National Cricket team!!!Recommend

  • Patwari

    Hindustani wages, Wages, which will put a Somali to shame. Sometimes they are paid by the piece. Meaning if their comment
    get published in a paper like ET, they get paid. Do remember, there 1 1/2 billion hindus. Jobs are hard
    to find.
    Recommend

  • Jijo Thomas

    Well the reason is simple Saudi Arabia has not given free money to any non major arab country. But with pakistan it gifted $1.5 Billion two years back and in addition has given millions of barrels of Crude Oil for many years so it is well within its rights to expect full compliance from pakistan. If Pakistan now waivers then it will face repercussions in the very near future.Recommend

  • Patwari

    So you finally found your father! He is a Chinese gentleman.
    Please let your mother know.
    Lord Rama works in mysterious ways. May he bless you.Recommend

  • Rohan

    But the cleaner of the mess is pakistan Recommend

  • peter pan

    Let us look at the consequences of not agreeing to the Saudis and UAE.

    So they will not allow the Pakistani elite a safe haven in Dubai. The PM’s extensive business in the Arabian peninsula may face some difficulties. So what?
    How does this effect Pakistan’s national interest?

    So the funding to the Jihadi and sectarian outfits will dry up . Again , very good.

    Pakistani labor will be turned out of the Middle East. May be may be not.
    At the outset one should make it clear that any guest worker employed in the Middle East is there on his or her own merit and certainly not because of his religious beliefs. (most of the guest workers are non –Muslim). Further any astute business man and the Arabs are very shrewd when it comes to money, knows that a good loyal worker is difficult to replace.
    Let us look at composition of the work force closely.

    Pakistanis working in the Middle East mostly constitute men- other than some women that some political figures and cohorts are reported to supply to the Middle East sex trade.

    Out of the men, many are laborers. These are Pathans who are willing and capable to work hard under very difficult circumstances. I doubt whether they can be replaced by Indians, Philipinos, Sri Lankans etc. Pakistanis form a minority of the people working in other trades. They have already been replaced by lower paid and more compliant workers from these countries. A small portion of the work force consists of white collar workers. Some of these categories could be effected. But is the impact going to be more than the Cost that we will have to bear compared to the cost of adding the border with Iran as on the list of active borders and the sectarian back lash that could be unleashed within Pakistan.

    Will the Saudis not give any more financial aid to Pakistan on the same terms as the $1.5 billion they gave last year? Perhaps this is not so bad. We will no longer need to supply weapons to the Saudi backed rebel forces in Syria. (The same Syria that Pakistan helped in the 1971 war with Israel by supplying volunteer Air force pilot and Chinese MIG 21`s while Saudis and the Golf states sat back and did nothing .)

    The IMF and the World Bank give more aid on very soft terms which does not have any “political strings” attached to it.

    These countries and EGYPT are directly responsible for the Massacre of the Palestinians a few years ago.
    How?
    The last Palestinian problem was a direct result of the Egyptians , with strong Saudi support, closing the Al- Rifah crossing into EGYPT, which the Palestinians were using to keep the food supplies and other commerce in the Gaza strip from completely drying up.
    Closing this crossing created a choke hold on the Gaza strip and Hamas had to adopt desperate tactics to breakout resulting in the killing of some 2000 people including 500 children. While these guys sat by quietly doing nothing.

    Let me close by saying that Damascus and most of Syria used to be a fairly modern place; look at it now.
    The prospering gulf states could easily turn into the rubble dump that Syria has become if this is allowed to continue.

    I would therefore suggest that we stick to our guns and not get drawn into this tribal conflict.Recommend

  • rationalist

    Where in my post did I say it has anything to do with India? Feeling defensive? Anyway, though both, as you state, are Arabs, Qatar is the outcast of the collective Arab countries from whom Pakistan gets a huge chunk of its foreign exchange. So, Pakistan being fellow Arabs, can’t stay this one out. It should join the coalition.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Better get DNA results, if possible, Otherwise he can
    deny being your father.Recommend

  • Umair

    Look I half agree with you. Our relationship with the USA was transactional. I think no one really believed there was any deep friendship with the USA. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan we received aid from the Americans. In exchange we were supposed to support the refugees and support the Mujahideen. I don’t think no senior Pakistani thought otherwise. Both the Pakistanis and the Americas made public displays of friendship but no Pakistani or American with a half a brain believed there was an genuine friendship.
    But with the Saudis we are confused. Our relationship with the Saudis is more transactional than we like to think. Certainly the Saudis think of it as being like a deal between a weak and a strong party. The Saudis see us as miskeen. That is why they want us on board.Recommend

  • Ahmar

    Didn’t the PM declare already that Pakistan will not get involved in the issue?

    As far as I care, both the Qataris and Saudis can have their tug of war as long as we dont back either side.Recommend

  • amadshk

    You didn’t have to say it… you implied it… this Mohammed bin qasim routine is quite popular with RSS/BJP types

    India also gets a big chunk– should it grovel to Saudi? Pakistan should learn from India’s sovereign independence and stay neutral … this isn’t Pakistan’s battle to fight Recommend

  • Patwari

    Well, see, er,…hmm,…there is a caste system in Hindustan.
    And him, meaning Ramanan, being a Dalit/Untouchable,
    it will be very hard for him to be even allowed inside a temple,
    or a festival. Even his shadow dare not fall on another hindu.
    That’s why he is so bitter.Recommend