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Pakistani foreign minister in US after visits to Iran, Saudi in mediation push


Pakistani foreign minister in US after visits to Iran, Saudi in mediation push

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Photo: Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone

Pakistan’s foreign minister will be in Washington today for talks with US officials following visits to Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Although Islamabad says it will avoid “taking sides” in the latest confrontation between Iran and the US, the country finds itself in a sensitive position. Pakistan is a majority Sunni Muslim country but is also home to many Shi’ites, which make up around 15% of the population. While Pakistan’s government is eager to avoid further regional instability, it remains allied with Iran’s arch regional foe Saudi Arabia and relies heavily on US and Saudi economic aid—in FY 2019 amounting to $242 million from the US alone—to manage its severe balance of payments problem.

While Pakistan’s military leadership has called for “maximum restraint” and Prime Minister Imran Khan for “peace”, Islamabad understands that it plays a careful balancing game between keeping Shia elements in the country pacified and maintaining the flow of aid from its US and Saudi partners.

Therefore, expect any Pakistan-mediated negotiations to be limited in scope. While the country has strong relationships with both sides that may help bring all parties to the negotiating table, Pakistani leadership is unlikely to advocate in strong favour of one interest over the other. This may streamline negotiations but it also risks leading to a potential agreement without much clout.

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