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Pakistan PM, army chief off to Saudi Arabia, Iran

world Updated: Jan 18, 2016 17:51 IST
Nawaz Sharif

Pakistan President Nawaz Sharif arrives at Katunayaka International air port in Colombo.(AP Photo)

Pakistan on Monday stepped up efforts to broker peace between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and army chief Gen Raheel Sharif embarking on back-to-back visits to Riyadh and Tehran.

Nawaz Sharif will meet King Salman bin Abdulaziz in Saudia Arabia on Monday. This will be followed by a meeting with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran on Tuesday, a statement from the Prime Minister’s House said.

Observers said Islamabad fears a proxy war being fought within the country if the two allies of Pakistan are not asked to pull back.

“Essentially there is very little Pakistan can do to convince either side,” said analyst Mosharraf Zaidi. “Pakistan has neither carrot nor stick for either side.”

Zaidi said the Prime Minister agreed to move ahead with the visits because of the insistence of Gen Sharif, who has expressed reservations over the possibility of his troops getting involved in anti-Iran operations if Pakistan joins the Saudi-led coalition against terrorism.

A senior Pakistani official said that during a recent high-level meeting, the civil and military leadership was informed that Pakistan could become the stage for a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran if their relations continued to deteriorate.

In the past, sectarian conflict in Pakistan has been fuelled by funding from both Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“We have seen Saudi Arabia pump billions into Pakistan to fund Sunni parties, including militant organisations,” said politician Jibran Nasir. He said the Saudi government has “deep links” with Pakistan’s security establishment.

Iran too has funded sectarian groups in Pakistan and expressed reservations over Islamabad’s links with Riyadh, observers said.

Pakistan defence minister Khwaja Asif recently cancelled a visit to Teheran after the Saudi government expressed its reservations, according to local media reports.