Sometimes it becomes seriously bemusing for a state, to be between the choices which create immense fog in the foreign policy of any country, and that is what, we have been noticing in the foreign policy of Pakistan too.

Terrorism is a grim and global issue, but it is especially a problem for Eastern Muslim countries more than Western Non-Muslim ones, as ISIS, AL-Qaeda and Boko-Haram and other violent terror outfits directly affect those in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia.

Iran is obviously a neighbouring Muslim country, but more inclined towards India, and has a less strategic inclination towards Pakistan while viewing through the Pak-Saudi angle.

A mega ‘Peace-Gas-Pipeline’ project of Pak-Iran, that has worth of $7 billion has not even been initiated sincerely from either side since last eight years and is filled with unresolved controversies. In Tehran’s media, it is expected that this deal may be cancelled if not revised.

It is a matter of fact, that state shakes hand with a nation, only when it suits its interests more than developing relations with others, and when it is cost-effective.

Pakistan is a Muslim country with the second largest Shi’ite population, and going against Iran is even worse for Islamabad itself. Tehmina Janjua, Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, has well asserted, “It is difficult for Pakistan to maintain equal relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran, but we (Pakistan) will not go against Iran’s interests”.

Read: Options for Pakistan-Saudi alliance

Saudi Arabia is not merely Pakistan’s historical ally, but also the custodian of sacred places for the Muslim Ummah. But what fascinates Pakistan most is its subsidised oil; $40 per barrel in January 2015, and money that comes from Pakistani diaspora in KSA; figures around 2.2 million Pakistani workers and the largest overseas population in Saudi Arabia.

To strengthen its defence through this alliance, can be a better military strategy which includes NATO-member Turkey and Nuclear-armed Pakistan, with sufficient experience of war on terror.

Riyadh has also been open for Strategic backup to Islamabad in its Nuclear program, Kashmir Issue, support in Afghanistan, and on other occasions at international level.

Terrorism is a grim and global issue, but it is especially a problem for Eastern Muslim countries more than Western Non-Muslim ones, as ISIS, AL-Qaeda and Boko-Haram and other violent terror outfits directly affect those in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia.

Pakistan is already individually fighting against the same terrorism as initially characterised by KSA, with ongoing military operation ‘Raddul Fasaad’ across the country.

KSA expends more than $80 billion annually on defence and fourth largest spending country with six percent increase in the fiscal year 2016 for the defence budget but it is still lacking a well-trained and battle-hardened army.

“Currently, every Muslim country is fighting against terrorism individually … so coordinating efforts is very vital,” stated the Saudi defence minister, Mohammed bin Salman.

To strengthen its defence through this alliance, can be a better military strategy which includes NATO-member Turkey and Nuclear-armed Pakistan, with sufficient experience of war on terror.

This alliance, led by Pakistani retired General and Pakistan’s significant and prominent position in it, is also a diplomatic clout against India’s fruitless & naive endeavours. Its exploitation of such tactics of realpolitik has been countered and left ineffective.

Though the scope of the operations is said to be unrevealed or may not be merely open but shared, as states can’t make an alliance without knowing its objectives and methods. But it is also possible to make these policies with the consensus of Ex-COAS Pakistan Gen (Rtd) Raheel Sharif with the other Muslim states and KSA Defense ministry. The change of Saudi Army Chief on the recommendation of Gen. Raheel Sharif somehow indicates this in the true essence.

KSA has no nuclear weapons to use for deterrence in the region against Israel and Iran but can have the protection of IMAFT. Pakistan’s legislative house refused to join KSA military operations in Yemen against Pro-Iran ‘Houthi rebels’, by deciding not to send its troops on the ground in April 2016.

Read: Saudi army chief replaced on General Raheel Sharif’s recommendation: report

It is worth noting that how Pakistan was facing problems arising from its diaspora in Saudi Arabia after April 2016. Data stated by State Bank of Pakistan’s figures shows that in the fiscal year 2014, the remittance was increased from $9.7 billion to $15.8 billion, but surprisingly, in first nine months of the fiscal year 2016, it dropped by 2.5% reported by the same source. In a few months of 2016, 39,000 Pakistani workers were deported by the Saudi government, due to stated factor of low oil price, but it was, in reality, a symbolic pressure on Islamabad more than the stated factor.

India’s struggle for the better relations with Saudi Arabia and UAE has been an obstacle to Pakistan’s role in the Middle East, which India considers as ‘Isolation of Pakistan’ amidst Gulf countries.

Pakistan these days is facing serious threat perception arising from Afghanistan in the form of TTP and its factions. So, hitting such terrorist organisations with this alliance would be countering Indian threat from the western border.

This alliance, led by Pakistani retired General and Pakistan’s significant and prominent position in it, is also a diplomatic clout against India’s fruitless & naive endeavours. Its exploitation of such tactics of realpolitik has been countered and left ineffective.

The operations by IMAFT include five major countries including North Africa’s Egypt, Middle Eastern Libya, Syria, Iraq and Asia’s Afghanistan. Putting Afghanistan in this list automatically necessitated Pakistan implicitly, even if it had not joined the alliance, it could have faced unexpected outcomes.

Pakistan is fighting its war against terrorism, and for that, shaking hand with defence minister from Riyadh is not unnecessary, it is rather more instrumental for national interest. And unlike Yemen war, it is more of geopolitical and strategical nature. In an initial conference, this alliance was called against terrorism, particularly ISIL, but now it is expected to extend against all sorts of terrorism Muslim countries are facing in the region.

It would be more beneficial for Pakistan if TTP is included as one of the primary targets when Islamic Military Alliance comes to fight against terrorism in Afghanistan.

Pakistan these days is facing serious threat perception arising from Afghanistan in the form of TTP and its factions. So, hitting such terrorist organisations with this alliance would be countering Indian threat from the western border. Though the targets of IMAFT are not known yet, but TTP’s objectives are the same as that of ISIL or Al-Qaeda.

ISIS is like an uncontrolled nuclear bomb, who can reach Pakistan soon if not diplomatically fenced and militarily stricken. There are indications of its efforts to grow its presence within Pakistan. It is growing at a fast momentum in neighbouring Afghanistan since 2015. As per US military, there is the presence of 600 to 800 ISIL fighters on Afghan land, especially in its Nangarhar province, which shares a border with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the northern province of Pakistan. The most dangerous non-nuclear bomb, ‘Mother of All Bombs’ was used to target ISIS in Nangarhar that killed 94 of its ISIS fighters & 13 Indian RAW personnel, is yet another confirmation of the terror outfit’s presence.

Pakistan can also build its soft power in Middle East politics through this Islamic Military Alliance, as predicted by analysts in Islamabad.

To attain both of these objectives; being in such alliance with countering terrorism, at the same time would serve Pakistan’s national interest, in terms of security and creating regional equilibrium as much as possible.

Islamabad should calculate its role more cunningly. It needs to avoid coming in a clash with Iran, which shares 909 km border with Iran. As Pakistan’s Shi’ite citizens and government officials have strong sympathy towards Tehran, so cautious steps are required, and at the same time, Iran should be cautious too of its actions that may deteriorate its ties with neighbouring Pakistan. This clash of Saudi-led IMAFT with Iran is very much possible, though diplomatically denied. Pakistan must address these concerns while keeping in view its own security threats, especially India’s espionage directed towards Pakistan via Iran’s territory. What would be the goals of IMAFT is yet to be seen.

SHARE
Saddam is from Quetta studying Defence and Strategic Studies at QAU, Islamabad. He is interested in analysing national and international politics, Balochistan (Insurgency), South Asian Politics (Border Clash), Terrorism and CT strategy and Globalisation, and Cyberwarfare.