A neutral posture.

Byline: Huma Yusuf

BREWING tensions in the Persian Gulf should be a cause for alarm in Pakistan. The US deployment of an aircraft carrier and bombers, alleged proxy attacks, Saudi Arabia's calls for surgical strikes against Iran, and Iranian threats about resuming its nuclear programme are setting the stage for conflict.

But US and Iranian officials are simultaneously softening their stances, calling for talks and downplaying prospects of direct conflict. Tweeting on Friday, US President Donald Trump summed up the situation quite well: 'With all the Fake and Made Up News out there, Iran can have no idea what is actually going on!'

And neither can anyone else. What is clear, however, is that the Trump administration's ham-fisted efforts to instal a better nuclear deal with Iran will increase the precariousness of regional dynamics, with uncertain outcomes, and implications for Pakistan's stability.

Pakistan has already stated that it will not take sides in the current confrontation, and called for US restraint. These are the right noises to make. The need for Pakistan to remain neutral in any stand-off between the US and Saudi Arabia on one side and Iran on the other is clear.

Our parliament's decision in 2015 not to send troops to support the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen set an excellent precedent for this neutrality. However, that position could be tested under the latest circumstances. Following the Yemen snub to the kingdom, Pakistan showered Saudi Arabia with assurances that it would defend Saudi Arabia's interests.

Pakistan must entrench its ties with Iran.

Recent developments, such as the Houthi drone strikes against Saudi oil infrastructure, for which Riyadh has blamed Tehran, could lead to renewed pressure on Pakistan to provide support to the kingdom.

Given Saudi Arabia's recent largesse towAards Pakistan last year's $6 billion emergency loan, promises of up to $20bn in investments, and even offers of LNG Riyadh may be tempted to test the strength of Islamabad's allegiance and, given its indebtedness, our government would struggle to push back.

Some analysts have argued that given Saudi Arabia's growing engagement with India, it can hardly object to Pakistan balancing ties and continuing to engage with Iran. But we should have no delusions that this is an equal partnership. Riyadh would expect to count on Pakistan if the regional situation deteriorated significantly; for example, if it came to direct conflict, or if the...

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