PAKISTAN Foreign Office expressed concern over the situation emerging with the killing of General Sulaimani, however ISPR DG Asif Ghafoor said that Pakistan would not be a party to any move that disturbs the peace in the region and will not take sides in the US-Iran conflict. This is of course stated policy of Pakistan since 2015 when Pakistan refused to commit forces against Houthis. ISPR spokesman also debunked social media reports that Pakistan would stand by US in a war against Iran. He said such baseless rumours were circulating on social media. “My request to the people and media would be to only pay attention to statements from an authentic source,” he said, adding that they should not believe in the propaganda and rumours being spread by the enemies of the country,” he added. Pakistan had appreciated Iran’s condemnation of India’s revocation of special status of Kashmir.
On 21 August, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei took to social media to call on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to reverse its actions in Kashmir. “We have good relations with India, but we expect the Indian government to adopt a just policy towards the noble people of Kashmir and prevent the oppression and bullying of Muslims in this region.” Iran’s leader also placed blame on the United Kingdom, stating that Britain’s decision to partition the sub-continent between India and Pakistan in 1947 created the current situation. In a phone call with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that “Kashmir’s Muslims must be able to use their own interests and legal rights and be able to live in peace,” while maintaining that there is no military solution to the crisis.
Despite support by Saudi Arabia and UAE in overcoming financial crisis, Pakistan has chosen to stay neutral in confrontation between them and Iran, as these countries have excellent relations with India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was honoured with the ‘Order of Zayed’, the UAE’s highest civilian award, as a mark of appreciation for his efforts to boost bilateral ties between the two nations. The award had earlier been bestowed on several world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Queen Elizabeth II and Chinese President Xi Jinping. “The award in the name of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE, acquires special significance as it was awarded to Prime Minister Modi in the year of the birth centenary of Sheikh Zayed,” Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had said in a statement ahead of his visit, and also used superlatives for the Kingdom after the visit.
A harbinger of the growing closeness between New Delhi and Riyadh is the number of high-level visits by political leaders from both countries in recent years. For the second time, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi travelled to Saudi Arabia to attend the Future Investment Summit held in Riyadh on October 29-31. The frequency of such visits clearly manifests the strategic importance accorded by both countries to one another. Today’s Indo-Saudi cooperation is no longer restricted to traditional sphere of oil-energy trade; instead, relationship has become multifaceted due to the impetus given by leaderships of both countries to other areas, including defence, maritime security, counter-terrorism, science and technology, strategic oil reserves, investment, tourism and so on. This bonhomie has come about at a time when mega economic reform programmes are underway in Saudi Arabia, for which it welcomes India’s economic as well as technological assistance.
Likewise, New Delhi looks for Saudi investments in India’s petro-chemicals, infrastructure and mining sectors alongside cooperation in economic and security matters. Last year, the Foreign Ministers of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) travelled to Islamabad in a symbolic show of solidarity with Pakistan after New Delhi stripped the Indian-administered Kashmir of its autonomy. UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir held meetings with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmoud Qureshi, but stayed away from issuing strong words against India. The Gulf countries, with whom Pakistan has enjoyed a long-standing brotherly relationship for decades, stayed away from condemning India’s crackdown in Kashmir. As regards scrapping of Kashmir’s special status and the imposition of crippling security lockdown, the UAE called it New Delhi’s internal matter.
Other Gulf countries — Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman — have apparently not issued any statements. The Hindu nationalist Prime Minister under whose watch Muslims have been targeted was also honoured with Saudi Arabia’s highest civilian award in 2016. With $100bn in annual trade, India has emerged as a vital economic partner to the Gulf countries. Moreover, millions of Indian workers help drive the region’s economy. “India has developed a good economic relationship with Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” said Manoj Joshi, a distinguished fellow at Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. Both these countries are looking to the future when oil will run out, and they see India as a potential country where they can invest and a country with a large market with which they already have good economic ties. Fostering closer ties with New Delhi is important to the Islamic Republic, especially given that India is Iran’s second largest oil market behind China.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.