A Balancing Act – Pakistan’s Relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran

Pakistan’s foreign policy has always been influenced by its unique geographical location and intricate geopolitical dynamics. It shares borders with four countries: India, Afghanistan, China, and Iran, each playing a significant role in shaping its foreign relations. Additionally, its historical relationship with Saudi Arabia, a key Muslim majority nation and economic powerhouse, has also contributed to its diplomatic tactics and strategies.

In the past decade, the relationship between Saudi Arabia (KSA) and Iran, two regional heavyweights in the Middle East, was strained. The rivalry between these nations resulted in economic rivalries, proxy wars, and regional instability. However, the recent reconciliation between the two rivals, a monumental shift facilitated by China, has provided an opportunity for Pakistan to balance its relationships with both nations.

In an intricate diplomatic environment, where Pakistan enjoys a partnership with Saudi Arabia and shares borders with Iran, this newfound harmony presents significant benefits. China, a crucial ally of Pakistan, plays a pivotal role in this matrix, with its diplomatic efforts enabling the landmark reconciliation.

Pakistan’s relationship with Iran has been subject to regional dynamics, common interests, and bilateral disputes. The crackdown on oil smuggling at the Iran-Pakistan border, the shared interest in preventing instability in Afghanistan, and the potential implications of the China-Iran deal on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are some key issues. The reconciliation could provide a platform for addressing these concerns and solidifying the ties between the two neighbors.

Similarly, Pakistan’s alliance with Saudi Arabia has been historically influenced by mutual interests and strategic considerations. Despite the regional tensions, Pakistan has maintained its solidarity with the Kingdom, keeping its bilateral ties strong and steady.

The historic Saudi-Iran deal could be considered a “gamechanger” and a “brave new chapter”. The political experts and foreign policy analysts in Pakistan view it as a significant step towards peace that will not only benefit the Middle East but also have positive implications for Pakistan. The easing of tensions and the potential for increased cooperation will not only contribute to regional stability but also open new avenues of economic and diplomatic engagement for Pakistan with both countries.

The Iran-KSA reconciliation, also marking the reopening of embassies after a seven-year hiatus, signals progress towards stability in the Middle East and could catalyze other countries in the region to normalize relations, such as the case with Syria. This could lead to increased cooperation and trade, positively impacting countries in the Middle East, South/East Asia, and beyond.

The Foreign Office of Pakistan has welcomed the normalization of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran. It commends China’s leadership in orchestrating this historic agreement and praises the leadership of Saudi Arabia and Iran. Pakistan, expressing its commitment to peace, pledges to continue playing a constructive role in bridging gaps between the two nations and hopes this positive step sets a template for regional cooperation and harmony.

Pakistan has found itself entangled in regional conflicts between Saudi Arabia and Iran. For instance, during the Yemeni Civil War, Riyadh sought Pakistan’s military support, while Iran urged Pakistan to remain neutral. Striking a balance between the demands of both parties has proved challenging for Pakistan, potentially straining its military resources and diplomatic standing. Pakistan’s counterterrorism efforts have often been scrutinized concerning its relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran. While the country has participated in the Saudi-led Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, it has also cooperated with Iran in combating drug trafficking and border security issues. This duality has led to questions about Pakistan’s true commitment to the fight against terrorism.

Both Saudi Arabia and Iran play crucial roles in Pakistan’s energy security. Saudi Arabia has historically been a major provider of oil and financial assistance, while Iran offers natural gas and trade opportunities. Balancing these energy sources while adhering to international sanctions and regional interests is crucial for Pakistan’s economic stability.

Pakistan’s relationships with KSA and Iran have implications for its domestic politics as well. Political parties in Pakistan may align themselves with either KSA or Iran, often reflecting the country’s complex religious and ideological diversity. Such alignments can influence foreign policy decisions and create internal political debates.

Ultimately, the newfound peace between Iran and Saudi Arabia has implications beyond their borders, affecting regional dynamics and geopolitics. For Pakistan, this serves as a pivotal opportunity to foster its relationships with both Iran and Saudi Arabia, providing a unique balancing act. It will require diplomatic finesse, strategic planning, and a keen understanding of regional dynamics to capitalize on this opportunity fully. However, the potential benefits – economic, political, and strategic – make this a task worth undertaking.

Sahibzada M. Usman, Ph.D.
Sahibzada M. Usman, Ph.D.
Research Scholar and Academic; Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of Pisa, Italy. Dr. Usman has participated in various national and international conferences and published 30 research articles in international journals. Email: usmangull36[at]gmail.com