Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has warned that the Middle East cannot afford a direct military conflict – specifically between Saudi Arabia and Iran – and that such a situation “would be disastrous for Pakistan.”
In an interview with the German newspaper Deutsche Welle yesterday, Khan stressed the neutrality of Pakistan between the two regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia, both of which Pakistan has historically had friendly diplomatic, military, and economic relations with.
He said that while the Gulf Kingdom is “one of Pakistan’s greatest friends,” Pakistan has also “always maintained a good relationship” with Iran. He elaborated that due to this, his country would not take sides in the increasing tension between the two rivals.
“Therefore, a military conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran would be disastrous for Pakistan. We are trying our best to make sure that ties between these two countries do not deteriorate,” stated Khan. He added that the Middle East cannot “afford another conflict.”
Khan’s comments come a week after Pakistani Foreign Minister Mahmood Qureshi met with his counterparts in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the US, while at the same time Khan insisted that his country is “ready to play its role for peace” but “can never again be part of any war.”
Pakistan’s firm neutrality has been seen in previous years, such as its hesitancy in directly sending ground troops to Yemen with the Saudi coalition, despite its training of Saudi troops and the presence of some soldiers in Yemen for “advisory and training” purposes.
The Pakistani premier’s warning comes at a time of increased tensions between Saudi Arabia – along with its ally the US and other Gulf nations – and Iran, which rose dramatically over the past year and particularly at the beginning of 2020.
Last year witnessed Iran’s seizing of European ships and oil tankers in the summer and its shooting down of a US drone in the area, as well as Iran’s involvement in the attack on a Saudi Aramco oil facility in Saudi Arabia’s south-west in September, which hit global oil supplies by five per cent.
Much of the tension stems from the US withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and the reimposition of sanctions on the country, but the biggest hit came when the US killed the Iranian commander and head of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qasem Soleimani with a drone strike at the beginning of January.
Since then, there has been a dramatic rise in the fear of a direct military conflict between the two sides, with Iran having mildly retaliated but with the promise of an upcoming larger retaliation which many fear to be another attack targeting Saudi Arabia and its assets.
Amid all of this, Pakistan has long been seen as a potential mediator between Riyadh and Tehran, being one of the few allies of both nations that do not overtly lean to one side or the other. Late last year, Pakistan offered to be that mediator and facilitate talks between the two, which Iran officially welcomed.