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Syrian endgame triggers realignments

When senior Pakistani editor Najam Sethi can’t figure out why Saudi Arabia deposited a princely amount of $1.5 billion in the State Bank of Pakistan recently, we are at a dead end. Sethi said in a TV interview, “money is money and if something is taken, something has to be given in return and that is being kept secret. Saudi Arabia had made a request [to Pakistan].” 

There have been reports about a Saudi-Pakistani understanding about Syria — Pakistani advisers to train a Syrian rebel army and for supplying weapons for equipping the rebel fighters. 
But the advisor to Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif in foreign and security policies Sartaj Aziz has flatly denied that. But then, Aziz merely says it is “gifted money.”  So, Sethi’s tantalizing question remains: why such a generous gift? 
A clue is available with the arrival of the King of Bahrain Sheikh Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al-Khalifa in Islamabad on Wednesday on a 3-day visit. 
This is the first visit by a Bahrain ruler to Pakistan in four decades and it is taking place after the recent visits by the Saudi foreign minister and Crown Prince to Islamabad.
One of the agreements signed during Al-Khalifa’s visit relates to the interior ministries. Nawaz Sharif said he expects Bahraini (read Saudi) investments in “mega projects” in Pakistan. 
Slowly, but surely, the picture that is emerging is of Saudi Arabia (and Bahrain) subcontracting to Pakistan certain internal security duties in the Gulf region. Breaking protocol, Al-Khalifa visited the Joint Services Headquarters in Rawalpindi to meet the military leadership’.
With the intra-GCC rifts becoming acute, Saudi deployments in Bahrain to quell the upheaval for democratic reforms are becoming unsustainable, especially with the steadily worsening situation in the eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia, which are Shi’ite-dominated. 
Besides, the Saudis are bracing for a confrontation with Qatar. The latter, on the other hand, has close ties with Turkey and Iran and, even more shockingly for Riyadh, it has reached out to the Syrian regime for a patch-up. In sum, Saudi Arabia faces isolation and has only the UAE, Bahrain and Jordan as its reliable allies. Iran’s Fars News Agency featured an insightful  report on this complex realignment taking place in the Middle Eastern politics. 
Quite obviously, the endgame in Syria and the brightening prospects for an Iran nuclear deal have triggered realignments in regional politics. The Syrian regime has all but gained the upper hand on the ground and is fast reaching a position to dictate the national reconciliation, while Iran’s diplomatic options have multiplied. 
Against this backdrop, and with Egypt in disarray, Saudi Arabia feels an unprecedented regional isolation. No doubt, it is assiduously courting Pakistan. 
But it is unclear whether Pakistan will want to take sides in the intra-GCC rift involving Saudi Arabia and Qatar or in the popular Shi’ite uprising in Bahrain. 
From all accounts, a furious debate is going on within the Pakistani establishment. Pakistan always walked a fine line when it concerned ties with Iran, given the Tehran-Delhi equation. Having said that, Pakistan is also badly in need of the “gifted money”. Unsurprisingly, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is scheduling a visit to Iran. 

Posted in Diplomacy, Military, Politics.

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  1. Mohammad Cadri says

    It’s sad to see Saudi Arabia isolated but it’s it’s own doing. . There may have been some bad blood and rough exchanges between the Saudi monarchy and the brotherhood in the past but that in no way justifies open hostility towards the Brotherhood and denouncing them as terrorists!
    Qatar has moved away from Saudi because of this and the Turkish premier Recep Erdogan even denounced Saudi for the blatant move it made. Not to forget, Saudi’s support for the army led coup in Egypt which is completely blatant and illegal by all standards.

    I mean illegal even by US standards!!! As the US is an exceptional country and laws are interpreted as per it’s own convenience and interests. Simply because it’s a great country, an exceptional country.

    2 things are becoming very clear to the GCC states including Turkey, Iran, Lebanon. First, The Saudi monarchy’s only interested in clinging onto power and that it gives a damn to the welfare of the Muslim ummah. Secondly, all actions carried out by Saudi Arabia in the recent past reflect American and Israeli inspiration and influence. Saudi Arabia does this because the monarch is only interested in staying in power.

    The world’s once again becoming multi-polar with the resurgence of Russia. In fact the word ‘tripolar’ would be more appropriate considering the spectacular growth of China in all respects!

    Many now see the axis of Russia and China more reliable and sensitive to the interests of all. So, they feel it’s best to align with this new axis or at least, stay neutral.

    Pakistan is proving time and again that it is a country which is up for sale. I only hope that Nawaz Sharif has become smarter and that he takes a cue from countries such as India and China. Trying to remain non-aligned and neutral, as much as possible. They suffered so much for facilitating the US aggression in Afghanistan and all they got in return was brickbats. So hopefully, he’ll come out smarter.

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