Pakistan’s foreign policy amid upheavals in Middle East

Beginning of twenty first century marks the start of audacious exploration of Middle East by western countries especially by the present-day superpowers. The Arab Spring, given the substantial inveterate spotlight by international media and the essential push by poverty struck masses stirred a final blow to the peace and stability of Middle East. Should this be concerning Pakistan in the long run? Or is Pakistan already the silent sufferer of this turmoil?

Amidst the process of Afghan Peace Talks, all the leading powers of East area are showing their willingness to end the unrest in Middle East. The recent Berlin Summit this January was aimed at the ways and means to end the Libyan war. Ouster of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and the situation in Yemen and Syria, partially the consequence of Libyan regime change irked the stability of the region and incepted a quagmire leading to a period of prolonged unrest.

Latest changes in political and strategic aspects of Middle East require Pakistan to remain vigilant and adopt sane policies. Instead of taking part in anyone’s war, Pakistan must remain neutral by not taking sides with any state.

January 2020 witnessed the leaders from Turkey, Egypt, Russia, Italy, France, United States (US) and United Kingdom (UK) attending the Berlin Summit in Germany accompanied by representatives from United Nations (UN), China, United Arab Emirates and several other countries.

For the economic uplift of each of the leading nations of Middle East and for Global prosperity, a stable and peaceful neighborhood becomes a primary objective. The summit was aimed at the same narrative, the agreed arguments are to be made a UN Security Council Resolution that includes the subject matter “End to foreign interference” as its important key point. The unnecessary intervention is being accepted worldwide to be the core problem with the East.

However, in another corner United States has proposed new plans and has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel creating an alarming situation for the Muslim leadership worldwide. Jerusalem holds holy importance for Muslims, Christians and Jews as well. Even after a long running list of Holy Crusades fought over this sacred land, it couldn’t get its authoritative ruler. Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan categorically made the remarks that Pakistan will not recognize Israel until there is a free homeland for Palestinians.

In the meantime, Turkey seems to be at the renaissance of its economic revaluation after the end of Treaty of Lausanne that was signed for 100 years right after World War I, it will complete its lawful period in 2023. Treaty of Lausanne was a peace treaty signed between the then Ottoman Empire and Allied Forces of WWI to settle the dispute between the two. As criticized by Turkish people themselves, the treaty barred Turkey to accept its modern borders thus to be recognized internationally as a sovereign state, but it came with a lot of restrictions for Turkey, both geographically and economically.

The treaty prevents Turkey from oil exploration alongside the implications put forward on Bosporus Strait. Turkey cannot charge fee from any ship crossing the strait that connects Black Sea, Marmara Sea and the Mediterranean. The treaty of Lausanne ends in 2023 giving us clues about the possible reason behind the tensions between Turkey and the West.

The Persians of the Middle East (Iran) on the other side are struggling with the western pressure and trying its best to lose the knot tied at its neck in the form of sanctions. The recent incident of Qasem Soleimani further escalated the situation between the United States (US) and Iran.

Being a neighbor, Iran is also an important variable for Pakistan in the series of equations defining our future course of actions. Pakistan is a major energy importer in terms of Oil and Gas. According to Global Economic Data, Indicators, Charts & Forecasts (CEIC) International, Pakistan’s daily oil demand as of December 2018 was 498.17 barrel per day. Also, Pakistan’s gas shortfall is expected to reach 4,600 Billion cubic feet per day in 2022-23 as per the State of Industry Report 2017-18 by the Oil & Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA).

Iran is known as the energy superpower of this region, in 2004 Iran alone exported 5.1% of the total crude oil exported globally. Though, the potential of Iran was forecasted 70 years ago by a civil engineer from NED University in 1950s named Malik Aftab Ahmad Khan. He had published an article about a possible gas pipeline between Iran and Pakistan called the Persian Pipeline and so it led to the idea of “Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline”.

However, the idea couldn’t get materialized as it should have been due to the pressure from United States (US) and Saudi Arabia. Construction on the pipeline from Iranian side has already completed in 2014 but Pakistan couldn’t take the risk to do the same from this side because of the sanctions on Iran and its repercussions for Pakistan if it goes against the International laws.

The Middle East and its potential in the future cannot simply be just ignored. The western powers were all focused on the same throughout the last two decade. There is a lot changing in the area and Pakistan being a nuclear armed country neighboring the region must take a stand with itself, not with others, for its own National Interest.

Foreign Policy aimed at good and long-lasting relations with Middle Eastern countries especially Turkey and Iran is Pakistan’s need of the moment. This surely is a huge challenge for a country historically tilted towards western stance. The real challenge is how Pakistan will have a neutral foreign policy in the midst of this chess game.

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