During his Iran visit, Pakistan PM Imran Khan has said that he will attempt to facilitate talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Khan held talks with the Iranian President Hassan Rohani and later met Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Trying to position Pakistan as the country which can defuse tensions between the two power blocs in the region, Khan told reporters alongside the Iranian President, “The reason for this trip is that we do not want a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran.” He also told Rohani, “Whatever it takes we must never allow this conflict to take place, because we know, Mr. President, that there is a vested interest that wants this to take place.”
From Khan’s visit to Shi’ite Iran, it has become amply clear that Pakistan is trying to project itself as a capable and potential mediator between a Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia and Shia-majority Iran, and Imran Khan as the ideal face of Muslim unity and inclusivity. However, it is rather bizarre as mediation takes place from a position of power and honour, and Pakistan has neither.
What is even more important to note here is that Pakistan has a deep vested interest itself in the dispute that it is trying to mediate. When Pakistan is itself guilty of persecuting Shias, it is ironic that Imran Khan seeks to resolve a dispute between Saudi Arabia and Iran which is largely based on the sectarian struggle between Sunnis and Shias for greater influence in West Asia. The power struggle between the two power blocks which are at war in Yemen, recently showed signs of escalation after an attack on Saudi oil facilities.
It must be noted that Pakistan has been carrying out a state-sponsored genocide of the Shia Muslims living in the country. The process that started during dictator Zia ul Haq’s dictatorship in the 1980s has continued unabated for several decades. As per official statistics, since 2001 itself 5,000 Shias have been killed in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The country’s security and intelligence agencies are believed to be involved in these attacks. Shias have been systematically targeted with countless attacks on individuals of the sect across all walks of life- politicians, activists, artists, teachers, clerics. In such circumstances, it is rather absurd how Pakistan is claiming the capability of mediating between the two countries, when it is itself is involved in the genocide of Shias within its territory.
Moreover, Pakistan also has a deep, vested interest in the ongoing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran. It is relevant to mention here that recently former Pakistan Army Chief, Raheel Sharif, led three brigades of troops consisting of the Saudi troops and Pakistani ex-Army mercenaries to an embarrassing defeat against the Iran-backed Houthis fighting the Yemen war. This event made it clear that Pakistan participated in the Yemen war on the Saudi side.
Therefore, Pakistan cannot be defined as a neutral, third party to this dispute rather it involved itself actively by sending in its army cum mercenaries to take part in the Yemen war. For any effective mediation between two international powers that the third party intermediating between the two should be an independent one holding no prejudice or bias against any of the sides in conflict. Pakistan, however, is an active participant in the dispute making it a highly undesirable option to act as a mediator between the two countries.
It is clear that Pakistan cannot be a capable mediator between Iran and Saudi Arabia. What Pakistan is attempting is personal gain by involving itself in a dispute between the two major power blocs in the Middle East. Pakistan would like to believe that offering its good offices to, or mediating between the two energy-rich countries in the Middle East can help it revive its economy from the free fall that it is in.
Moreover, Imran Khan is also looking at this as an opportunity to project himself as the best Muslim. His speech at the UNGA was all about invoking the prophet and speaking on communal, hateful lines about Muslims across the world. Now, by mediating between a Shi’ite Iran and a Sunni majority Saudi Arabia, Imran Khan is trying to project himself as the man who truly desires Muslim unity even as Pakistan continues to violate the human rights of Ahmadis, Pashtuns, and the Baloch. Imran Khan’s pitch for Muslim unity is unlikely to find many takers given Islamabad’s utter hostility towards Shia Muslims in Gilgit Baltistan and elsewhere in the Pakistani territory. This is going to go down as yet another desperate and disastrous diplomatic move by Imran Khan, all for more aid packages from the oil rich powers in the region.