US-Saudi summit is bad news for Pakistan

(Image Source: The Nation)

“I have been receiving a lot of messages from Pakistanis from across the world… they are embarrassed at how Pakistan’s prime minister was treated during Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia,”. These were the words of Imran Khan, chairman Pakistan Tehrik e Insaf, who held a press conference solely in the aftermath of the Nawaz Sharif’s embarrassment-laden affair at the Saudi-US summit in Riyadh.

Sharif, who had prepared for hours for a speech, was left red faced when he was not allowed to speak at the forum, inviting harsh criticism both at home and abroad. The situation also played in the hands of the Indian media, who called it a diplomatic defeat for Sharif, and an apparent victory for India, a country that was named by Trump as an a victim of terrorism.

Sharif might also have expected a warm welcome given the fact that his government recently issued an NOC for former military chief General Raheel Shareef to lead a Saudi established Muslim military alliance against terror in the Middle East. Raheel Shareef was also seen dining with Saudi Prince Muhammad bin Salman, along with Trump’s son in law Jared Kushner in Riyadh.

It was claimed by the credible media sources, traveling with the PM, that Nawaz spent the entire duration of his flight to Riyadh rehearsing his address to the summit, which included leaders of 55 Muslim-majority states. He might have expected this to be an opportunity to remind the world of the sacrifices Pakistan had made since the beginning of the War on Terror in 2001, but to his shock, Pakistan was rarely mentioned throughout the summit.

Many in Pakistan were also annoyed with the fact that Trump had singled out India as a major victim of terrorism, surprisingly because India might be the least affected South Asia state when it comes to terror attacks. By doing so, Trump did not only support India’s apparent atrocities in Kashmir, but also disregarded the fact that New Delhi has explicitly admitted to its involvement in terror activities in Pakistan’s Balochistan province.

Another alarming situation arising from the summit was its explicit tone against Iran. Donald Trump not only called Iran a financier of terrorism, but also asked all Muslim countries, and the international community, to boycott the country. This statement would have sent the Saudi regime on Cloud 9 as the Saudi Royal family has, over the years, tried to politically isolate Iran in the Global arena.

Saudi vendetta against Iran stems solely from a theological/ideological aspect and thus epitomizes the Shia Sunni rivalry in the Muslim world. Also, where it was considered to be a cake walk for the Saudis in Yemen and also Syria (in terms of support to Sunni rebels), support of Tehran towards Shia groups has made things hard for Saudi Arabia. Now with Trump on KSA’s side, things might get interesting the Middle East.

On the other hand, Pakistan, by attending the summit, has also made a diplomatic error as it now seeks to convince to Tehran that its presence at the summit was on neutral grounds. With the summit explicitly turning out to be an anti-Iran affair, Pakistan’s participation is supposed to negatively impact its ties with Tehran.

In any case, only time will tell whether Pakistan will commit itself to an alliance that is anti-Iran in nature, considering it enjoys fruitful ties both with Tehran and Riyadh. If Pakistan fails to keep a balance in its ties with Iran and Saudi Arabia, it might have to brace itself for sectarian tensions both on local and transnational levels.

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