What do they say?

Truth Tracker talks exclusively to former ambassador Wajid Shamsul Hasan and political analyst and journalist Nasim Zehra on the situation 

After the intrusion of Indian Air Force aircraft into the territory of Pakistan and ongoing tussle between the two arch-rivals – Pakistan and India – and its impact on the region.

The formation of new world blocs and changing ties between the neighbouring countries – Pakistan, India, China and Iran – in the light of recent visits of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to India and Pakistan have created a lot of hype in the international arena. To make sense of the situation, this week Truth Tracker talked exclusively to senior journalist and leading political analyst Nasim Zehra and Pakistan’s former high commissioner to the UK Wajid Shamsul Hasan.

Truth Tracker: Will Saudi Arabia play its role in de-escalating tensions between India and Pakistan?

Wajid Shamsul Hasan: So far Saudi record is very selfish or pragmatic in the conduct of foreign relations. In my view, Crown Prince Salman, in his visit to New Delhi, would have only peripherally discussed Indo- Pak ties if brought in by Prime Minister Modi. Modi was not required to complain about Pakistan’s involvement in anti-India terrorism as Saudis know it too well. Some of the groups involved are sustained by Saudi financial largess. As such I don’t see any Saudi role in de-escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan. As a matter of fact, the Saudi foreign minister’s statement accusing Iran of terrorism from Pakistani territory was perhaps deliberate to throw a spanner in Pakistan- Iran cordial relations.

Nasim Zehra: Saudi Arabia is playing its role, I guess. What we know is that Prime Minister Imran Khan told the Saudi crown prince to let the Indians know that if there is evidence,  Pakistan is willing to help in any investigations on the Pulwama attack.

Truth Tracker: Will India be ready to be used against Iran on Saudi Arabia desires?

Wajid Shamsul Hasan: Most certainly. Both India and Iran are nations with 5,000-year-old history. They are mature in the conduct of diplomacy. They know the extent pressure is good and when it could snap up things. As such it is very foolish to assume that Saudi would be able to drag India into its conflict with Iran in their favour. Indians are wise enough to know what is good and what is bad in the conduct of successful diplomacy.

Nasim Zehra: As far as India being ready to be used against Iran on Saudi Arabia desires, no, I don’t think so it will happen. India, as we see, is constantly in the act of balancing its relationships. So, if it is very close to Saudi Arabia it has even closer ties to Iran. If there are tensions between India and China on some security issues or on some border issues, India has spent a lot of effort in improving its trade relations with China. So, I think India doesn’t pursue a zero-sum game with any country, except Pakistan. It is a more complex thing when it is all Pakistan and India, but otherwise, India’s track record is of trying to balance out relationships. Obviously, in countries like Nepal it has gone beyond trying to balance but where the things it can bully, it does bully. That wouldn’t be the case when it comes to Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Truth Tracker: Will Pakistan follow Saudi Arabia (KSA) lines against Iran?

Wajid Shamsul Hasan: It would be a colossal diplomatic blunder if Pakistan allows itself to be used by Saudi Arabia against Iran. However, I am apprehensive of our howlers in the conduct of foreign policy. From the days of Nawaz Sharif’s and more so now Saudis are taking Pakistan for granted. Remember they had announced Pakistan’s membership of Sunni Army without seeking Pakistan’s approval. This high handed approach by them in treating Pakistan continues,  latest being Saudi abuse of Pakistani soil to hurl their outrageous allegations of terrorist activities against Iran from Pakistan soil during the visit of the Crown Prince. Pakistan’s helplessness taking this rude shock lying down shows the weakness of the PTI government or it means it is totally sold out to the Saudi imperialism.

Nasim Zehra: No, it won’t and it can’t afford to (play in the hands of the KSA against Iran). I think what will happen is that Pakistan will be a little more calculating and cautious in the timing of its virtuous towards Iran, timings of its engagements towards Iran as it’s not going to follow anybody else’s line and much like we didn’t follow US’ line on China or vice versa. Pakistan too tries to pursue a balancing act and I think sooner rather than later you will see certainly more virtuous towards Iran and more engagement in the case of Iran you have seen that we have had some statements from Iran’s commander of the revolutionary guards. So, we are seeing Iran react in a particular manner in a particularly negative manner but I see this settling down.

Truth Tracker: How Iran will react to KSA-Pakistan ties?

Wajid Shamsul Hasan: As I said earlier Iran’s diplomacy is matured and not knee jerk. Its strike would be covert in Saudi Arabia. In Pakistan, its influence is overwhelmingly high because of Pakistan’s huge Shia population with very strong tentacles in every field, including armed forces. I hope that our leadership is not that foolish to further sour relations with Iran and by itself, a severe sectarian implosion second only to a nuclear explosion.

In conclusion, one would advise the PTI government to rein in its Saudi itch and be neutral in relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran. It must acknowledge with gratitude Iran’s cool response to Saudi abuse of Pakistan’s hospitality.

Nasim Zehra: I think Iran will obviously play its game in the region as it does and you know obviously some of the statements coming out of Iran point to them. Especially, if you go back to (an Iranian) commander’s statement where he takes Saudi Arabia’s name and talks about Pakistan or acts in a particular way because of the Saudi money that’s the kind of statement which is extremely unfortunate from Iran. It’s not only undiplomatic but pretty unsavoury and doesn’t help the relationship. The Saudi foreign minister will be more diplomatic as compared to the Iranian revolutionary guard said what he did. I guess it’s the ‘good boy’ and ‘bad boy’ approach. Unfortunate, but all said and done I think obviously, we will not see major downturns in Pakistan-Iran relations that’s what I am expecting definitely.

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