Conflict In Middle East Will Complicate Security Situation For Pakistan
Umer Farooq writes that a large number of Pakistani Shias and Sunnis have fought in the Syrian war. These mobilized, highly trained and motivated sectarian warriors could cause big trouble in Pakistani society in case of open conflict in the Middle East between Saudi Arabia and Iran, he argues.
The possible impending conflict in Middle East could trigger sectarian tensions in the region and Pakistan’s first and foremost concern is about preventing the regional sectarian tensions from reaching the Pakistani society.
Although apparently the conflict will possibly take place between Iran and US forces stationed in the region, there is a strong chance that Washington will convince other regional powers like Saudi Arabia and UAE to jump into the arena to support its military operations.
This scenario is becoming increasingly, likely as, so far, there is no effort to defuse the tensions that has surfaced following the assassination of Iranian military commander. Pakistani is closely allied with Saudi Arabia and UAE and economically and financially dependent on them to run its economy. Politically, Pakistan also looks towards Saudi Arabia when the chips are down in regional security situation.
Any conflict in the region which will see Iran and Saudi Arabia on the opposing sides will most certainly have a sectarian dimension, and Pakistan cannot escape the situation if genie of sectarian conflicts is unleashed as a result of regional conflict between Sunni—Saudi Arabia and UAE– and Shia state—Iran.
It seems that Pakistani ruler have already started anticipating the possible security implications for Pakistan and are trying to distance themselves from the conflict as much as possible.
Pakistani military spokesman only a day ago made it clear that Pakistan would not allow its soil to be used against anyone. He made this remark after a telephonic conversation between Army chief, General Bajwa and US Secretary of State in which the latter informed the former about US operation in which Iranian military commander was killed.
The two leaders discussed the possible implications of this US operation on the regional security situation and according to Pakistani officials, “COAS emphasized need for maximum restraint and constructive engagement by all concerned to de-escalate the situation in broader interest of peace and stability”.
It seems that US Secretary of State was not talking to someone who is a novice as far as regional security situation in the Middle East was concerned. Any conflict between Iran and US—with Saudi Arabia on Washington’s side— would make the security situation extremely complicated for Pakistan.
First of all, Pakistan is cooperating with Washington in their joint efforts to resolve the conflicts in Afghanistan and to bring Taliban and Afghan government on the negotiating table.
On the other hand, Pakistan is also holding consultations with Iran and to some extent cooperating with Iranian security services to counter the threat of rise of ISIS in Afghanistan. Pakistan officials believe that both types of cooperation will be hurt in case of direct conflict between Iran and United States.
Army Chief General Bajwa informed the US Secretary of State that all concerns should remain focused on ending the conflict in Afghanistan and bring peace to that country through the joint efforts of Islamabad, Washington and other capitals of the world.
During the last 7 to 8 years the security cooperation between Iran and Pakistani security services have increased dramatically after the unusual developments in regional security.
On the other hand, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are traditional partners as far as the regional security developments are concerned. Pakistan also materially contributes to the defense of Saudi Arabia. Things will become extremely complicated for Pakistan in case of a direct conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran—Pakistani military will not be able to resist the internal and external pressure to come to rescue of House of Saud in case of a threat to their survival and this will complicate its relations with Iran.
However, the most damning part of the whole situation will be the sectarian dimension of the conflict—as Pakistani society is not without its own problem as far as sectarian conflict is concerned.
A security official confided to this correspondent that a large number of Pakistani—both Shias and Sunnis—are coming back from the Syria and Iraq after participating in civil wars in those countries.
These mobilized and highly trained and motivated sectarian warriors could cause big trouble in Pakistani society in case of open conflict in the Middle East between Saudi Arabia and Iran—overtly Sunni and Shia States with the wherewithal to mobilize their supporters in most of the major regional countries including Pakistan.
Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.