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Innovative diplomacy with the US, KSA and Iran

Qamar Bashir

By: Qamar Bashir

The convergence of diplomatic engagements between Pakistan, USA, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and Iran amidst heightened regional tensions underscores a pivotal moment in Middle Eastern geopolitics. As the Saudi Foreign Minister embarks on a visit to  Pakistan to overtly solidify initial Saudi investments of $7 billion, Pakistan’s President has extended an invitation to KSA’s arch rival Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, with Raisi accepting a visit on 22nd April. This timing is particularly noteworthy, occurring merely nine days after Iran’s unprecedented direct attack on Israel—an action that has incensed the USA and its Western allies.

Pakistan’s diplomatic overtures are paramount especially following the Iranian direct attack on Israel on 13th April, countered by a coalition of US, UK, and French military assets, with ground support from regional allies including Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, and Jordan. Against this backdrop, Pakistan’s invitation extended to President Raisi signifies Pakistan’s delicate and risky diplomatic manoeuvring as Pakistan’s Finance Minister is currently in Washington DC to engage with the IMF to secure the release of the final tranche of $1.1 billion under the Stand-By Agreement and to explore possibilities for a new three-year IMF program knowing very well that apparently, the visit of Iranian President to Pakistan would annoy the US which has almost veto power over IMF decision making process.

A compelling angle emerges from this tripartite diplomatic activity, as all evidence suggests that Pakistan is acting as a crucial interlocutor between the USA and Iran, as well as between Saudi Arabia and Iran. As Pakistan uniquely holds strong diplomatic ties with both Iran and Saudi Arabia, alongside a strategic relationship with the USA.

Given the entrenched animosity and divergent interests between these key players in the Middle East, direct negotiations seem improbable. Therefore, as major stakeholders in the region’s conflicts, the USA and Saudi Arabia require a third-party intermediary to facilitate discussions on Middle East peace prospects with Iran—and Pakistan appears poised to fulfil this pivotal role.

This evidence-based theory holds considerable weight, particularly given the current context. Notably, Saudi Arabia’s overtly intent to solidify substantial investments of $7 billion (or potentially $5 billion according to other sources) in Pakistan, but the Saudi delegation is led by the  Foreign Minister, rather than by the Ministers of industries, trade and investment, or commerce. Conversely, Pakistan’s response to this visit, spearheaded by the Foreign Minister despite the economic focus involving the Ministry of Finance, Board of Investment, and Ministry of Industries, highlights the diplomatic nature of the engagement.

Assuming this theory holds true, let’s consider the potential benefits for the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, as well as the broader impact on the Middle East under these circumstances.

By leveraging Pakistan’s diplomatic influence, the U.S. could advance dialogue with Iran to potentially de-escalate tensions in the region, achieve guarantees from Iran in lieu of restraining from imposing further economic and financial sanction on Iran to  preserve the safety of the world supply chain, prevent Iran from using its proxies to escalate tension in the Middle East and protect Israeli interests in the region.

Saudi Arabia may view Pakistan’s diplomatic interlocution as an opportunity to mitigate regional tensions and foster stability in the Gulf, obtain guarantees of cessation of attacks by the Houthis in the red sea to ensure uninterrupted supply of its petroleum products, the mainstay of its economy, and prevent spread Israel-Hamas-Iran stand off to other parts of the Middle East which could have disastrous consequence for the entire Middle East and the world peace.

For Pakistan, acting as a mediator between the US, KSA and Iran carry significant diplomatic and economic advantages. It could enhance Pakistan’s regional influence and reinforce its position as a key player in Middle Eastern affairs. Moreover, attracting substantial investments from Saudi Arabia would bolster Pakistan’s economy and contribute to its long-term development goals.  Reducing tensions between KSA and Iran and Iran and USA will pave the way for broader cooperation and confidence-building measures in the Middle East. It would enhance the diplomatic status of Pakistan which in the long run would help it to improve its financial and economic outlook.

If Pakistan effectively contributes to regional diplomacy and helps de-escalate tensions in the region and continue its policy of hand off from Israel-Hamas-Iran staff off, and succeeds in establishing viable and sustainable communication channel between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the United States, the U.S. could be more inclined to support the release of the outstanding $1.1 billion tranche under Pakistan’s existing Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) with the IMF and could pave the way for the approval of a new three-year IMF program for Pakistan.

Above all, this will open the door for Saudi investment in Pakistan. The USA might turn a blind eye as Pakistan and Iran finally complete the long-awaited gas pipeline, allow affordable power and oil to flow from Iran, facilitate the next rollover of Saudi and UAE deposits, and allow the IMF to enter into a long-term agreement with Pakistan.

Should this theory prove to be accurate, Pakistan is pursuing innovative and unorthodox diplomatic strategies during a global period marked by a convoluted geopolitical terrain, notably in the Middle East, the Russia-Ukraine crisis, and the most recent Iranian reprisals in Israel.

Pakistan’s success in this creative and inventive diplomacy will be beneficial in a variety of ways. Pakistan will be able to overcome its diplomatic isolation and regain relevance by managing the most delicate and sensitive diplomatic maneuvering in the globe. This would give Iran some comfort, as the result of this diplomatic endeavor might make it less likely that Israel-US will attack Iran in reprisal. It would ensure better possibilities for peace in the Middle East and smooth, risk-free exports of Saudi Arabia’s oil products. If this diplomatic move is successful, there is a greater chance that Israel and Hamas would reach a peace agreement, which would provide the Palestinian people some relief.

By: Qamar Bashir

Former Press Secretary to the President

Former Press Minister to the Embassy of  Pakistan to France

Former MD, SRBC






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