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Experts: Pakistan should stay neutral in Middle East

Pakistani defense experts, former diplomats argue Islamabad should keep focus on eastern border

Islamuddin Sajid   | 04.01.2020
Experts: Pakistan should stay neutral in Middle East

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan

Defense experts and former diplomats from Pakistan suggest Islamabad remain neutral and maintain a low profile in the current Middle East crisis, after the killing of senior Iranian general, Qasem Soleimani, in a U.S. air strike in Iraq.  

Speaking on Friday at a roundtable meeting titled, Emerging Dynamics in the Middle East: Implications and Options for Pakistan, organized by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), an Islamabad-based think tank, former Ambassadors Abrar Hussain and Naila Chauhan said Pakistan must uphold its national interests amid escalating tensions in the region.

"Pakistan needs to devise a rational, comprehensive and well-thought out strategy keeping in view its domestic, political and economic interests in the wake of the fast-deteriorating situation in the Middle East," they argued.

However, they asserted that the country could not be a mere onlooker in the worsening situation in the region and must be proactive in creating solutions as a mediator.

Speaking at the event were also IPS head Khalid Rahman, retired Air Commodore Khalid Banuri, former Air Commodore Khalid Iqbal and senior security analyst retired Brigadier Said Nazir Mohmand. 

They agreed that the biggest threat currently facing Pakistan was the military deployment on its eastern border by India and the worsening situation in Indian-administered Kashmir.

"It's not in the interest of Pakistan to shift its military and strategic focus from Kashmir and all policy options regarding the Middle East crisis should be weighed in this context," said Mohmand.

The experts also argued that all-out war between the U.S. and Iran would prolong the stay of American forces in Afghanistan, which would have repercussions for Pakistan as it would force the country to stay committed to its western front, rather than focusing on its eastern border.

On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a flurry of diplomatic telephone discussions, speaking with foreign leaders following Washington's killing of a top Iranian commander that has put the region on edge. 

According to Pakistan's army spokesman, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa received a phone call from Pompeo and discussed the regional situation including possible implications of recent escalation in the Middle East. 

"COAS [Bajwa] emphasised need for maximum restraint and constructive engagement by all concerned to de-escalate the situation in broader interest of peace and stability," Major General Asif Ghafoor, said on Twitter.

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