The Iran-Saudi Mediation Mission

The Iran-Saudi Mediation Mission

Rustam Shah Mohmand

The news that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would bevisitingboth Riyadh and Tehran to discuss and explore the possibility of a reconciliation between Iran and Saudi Arabia has received overwhelming public approval across the political divide. Nothing could be more comforting and soothing to millions of Muslims around the globe than to hear about efforts for a rapprochement between the two countries .

The spat and the split in relations have caused profound frustration. If it is followed by a suspension of economic relations, it will not only cast gloom on the political landscape, but also negatively impinge on the economies of the region and adversely affect the lives of millions of people. The consequent rise in defence spending would draw resources away from the social sectors and produce a frightening arms race at the expense of socio-economic emancipation. A new arms race would also plunge the region into political instability and would unleash an unstoppable momentum for a radical and violent transformation of societal norms and values.

The stakes are high. New alignments may take root, possibly with external support or intervention, if the confrontational attitudes continue. At the core of the conflict is the issue of regional hegemony. One should remember that in the 21stcentury such hegemonic perceptions are viewed with scepticism. One country, however resourceful, cannot dictate a regional agenda and expect others to follow it. Erstwhile foes have now aligned their policies with each other in a number of regions across the world to herald the advent of a new era. This has happened in Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and in Southeast Asia.

There is no plausible reason why Saudi Arabia and Iran should confront each other to establish control or create groups or blocs to the detriment of the other. Iran has a role to play in the region that will not necessarily be at the cost of Saudi Arabia. It has the potential to promote trade with the West, Central Asia, China and Russia. With sanctions having been lifted, Iran will now have access to its frozen assets that are worth $100 billion. Rather than using such resources for promoting the vague concept of hegemony, it should prefer utilising these in areas such as education, information technology, the environment, industry and in the eradication of poverty.

Saudi Arabia is already acknowledged as an important country that has resources, political clout and is held in reverence by millions of Muslims around the world for being the custodian of holy sites. It has close relations with regional and trans-regional countries. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia would be net losers in any prolonged confrontation. That would only be pleasing for Israel.

For the mission that Pakistan wishes to undertake, a common ground has to be found between the two conflicting stands of the parties. Saudi Arabia’s concerns about Iran’s role in Yemen and Bahrain have to be addressed. At the same time, Iran’s concerns about the kingdom’s role in Syria and Iraq have to be considered. All these concerns can be addressed and resolved provided there is a reduction in distrust between the two countries. For any peace mission, it is crucial to identify the areas which can be explored for establishing a modicum of trust.

Since Saudi-Iran troubles are as old as the Iranian Revolution (1979), no quick fixes can be expected. But for Pakistan to have remained indifferent in a developing rift between its close ally and a close neighbour would have been unacceptable. Doing nothing was not an option for a number of reasons. There is no guarantee or any visible signs of hope for such mediation endeavours to succeed. But the initiative that the prime minister has taken is timely, and compatible and consistent with Islamabad’s stance on such regional issues as promoting harmony amongst friends and allies. Any effort to foster reconciliation will absolve Pakistan of its responsibility towards its allies in a crucial period when the region is threatened by crises in the wake of the insurgency of the Islamic State and the unsettling consequences of the Arab spring.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 19th, 2016.

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Courtesy: The Express Tribune  

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