Following the ongoing row that has seen Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, and even the Maldives formally sever their ties with Qatar, Pakistan has found itself in an unlikely diplomatic fix.
It was only a couple of weeks ago that Pakistan was conspicuously shunned at the Riyadh summit, prompting rumors that former Army Chief Raheel Sharif would pull out of the Saudi-led Islamic military alliance that he commands. To address the growing criticism at home, Islamabad even suggested that its participation in the Saudi-led alliance wasn’t final yet, citing anti-Iran rhetoric and the ensuing sectarian tinges of the coalition, as the concern. But there’s little doubt that it was the humiliation jointly orchestrated by the United States and Saudi Arabia that pushed a rethink – or at least a façade thereof.
It is hard to imagine Islamabad not being cognizant that the Saudi coalition is, for all intents and purposes, a Salafi NATO designed to counter the “Shia Crescent” spearheaded by Iran.” But after finally acquiescing to compromising ties with Tehran, in exchange for the Saudi petrodollars, Islamabad now faces another stiff question, at the most inopportune of moments.
The existence of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) means that Pakistan, like the rest of the world, has treated all member countries as an extension of Saudi Arabia. Unlike relations with Iran, which have always had the sword of Saudi-exacted opportunity cost hanging over them, any agreements with other GCC states have been negotiated and signed without any such considerations.
But now with a potentially prolonged Saudi-Qatar rift, Pakistan might have to face a dreaded choice sooner rather than later. The answer would have severe ramifications for Islamabad, especially vis-à-vis the multi-pronged security and energy crises that the country finds itself in.