Disengagement in regionâ s political situation not an option for Pakistan
The Columbia University Alumni Club of Pakistan and Global Village Space jointly organised a seminar on ‘emerging fault lines: fragmentation of politics in the Middle East and Pakistan’s quest for strategic stability’ to discuss Islamabad’s real options at a time of great change in its backyard.
Among panellists were former foreign secretaries Shamshad Ahmad Khan and Riaz Khokhar, former UN secretary-general special representative for Iraq Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, University of Singapore Associate Professor James Dorsey, political commentator Dr. Shahid Masood and South Asia Strategic Stability Unit director general Dr Maria Sultan.
The discussion was moderated by Dr Moeed Pirzada.
The panellists discussed how events had brought out several ancient fault lines across the Middle East and North Africa since 9/11, and how, in an interdependent world, these fault lines are travelling like shockwaves rippling across the region – even recent transcending of Mediterranean to jolt Europe in the form of ISIS.
They felt Pakistan, with its historical, religious and cultural links, its trade relations and its 4-5 million strong diaspora spread across the region, finds it difficult to remain isolated.
According to them, in 2015, when the war broke out in Yemen peninsula, Pakistan’s parliament decided to remain away from this conflict.
However, this demonstration of cautious neutrality was regarded as ‘abandonment’ by many of Pakistan’s traditional allies in the region.
Pakistani policymakers have been reflecting hard on the events of 2015, whereas their vision remains of ‘neutrality’ in all regional situations, they also don’t want to lose their allies or give space to forces inimical to Pakistan in the region.
Professor James Dorsey shedding some light on what fault lines are, asserted that the fault lines were not emerging anymore and instead, they had been established well.
He said the autocratic rule in the Middle East and the Saudi-Iranian rivalry had been going on for long.
“Iran poses a threat to Saudi Arabia merely by its existence because it is an Islamic democratically-elected government.”
Majority of the panellists were of the opinion that Pakistan had a lot of internal issues that it should focus on instead of taking sides in this emerging situation in the Middle East. “Pakistan has enough problems of its own. We have no need to go fishing for troubles outside,” Riaz Khokhar said.
Shamshad Ahmad Khan seconded him by stating that the most pressing ‘quests’ for Pakistan was to seek safety and survival of the state.
He however opined that staying completely away from such issues was not possible for Pakistan.
“Pakistan has to be neutral, where neutrality does not mean disengagement but not taking any sides,” he said.
Ashraf Jehangir Qazi said Pakistan was not part of any alliance and that it should not even think of becoming one as it couldn’t please every single country in the world, particularly those of the Middle East.
“Right now, Pakistan needs is to focus on being independent and its own development.”
Dr. Maria Sultan and Dr. Shahid Masood took the discussion to a different dimension raising some more questions, like who is fighting who; why the sectarian issue is so pressing now; who is funding ISIS; why this highly developed terrorist organisation is still generating revenue by selling oil and gas.
They however said Pakistan’s role, depending on its location and being an important Muslim country, couldn’t be overstated in the issue concerning the fault lines.
The crux of the entire discussion was that the future of Pakistan was highly dependent on the Middle Eastern fault lines.
According to it, one can never keep Pakistan out of the political situation in this region; disengagement is not an option. Pakistan needs to be strategically sound in this matter in order to stay safe and secure in the days to come.
The seminar was attended by prominent members of diplomatic community, academia, think tanks, media and civil society. The discussion concluded on while Pakistan cannot stay aloof from the Middle Eastern fault lines it should be careful what it promises to deliver.