Pakistan to stay neutral in Saudi-Qatar dispute

* Sartaj Aziz says govt can ask Gen (r) Raheel Sharif to come back since he is leading Saudi-led military alliance ‘in personal capacity’

Pakistan to stay neutral in Saudi-Qatar dispute


 

ISLAMABAD: Adviser to PM on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz has said Pakistan will not take any sides in the recent stand-off between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

“Pakistan doesn’t want to interfere in other countries matters and will stick to its non-partisan policy on the Middle East issue,” he told the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs on Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya and the United Arab Emirates announced on June 5 that they were severing diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing the Gulf state of supporting terrorism.

Commenting on former army chief Gen (r) Raheel Sharif’s appointment in the Saudi-led military alliance, Sartaj said he had gone to head the group ‘in personal capacity’.

Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, however, had earlier confirmed that Gen (r) Raheel was given an NOC by the government to lead the military alliance.

During the committee’s session, PPP Senator Kareem Khawaja voiced his dissatisfaction with Pakistan’s role in the Gulf crisis and demanded that the former army chief should be asked to return to Pakistan voluntarily.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) Senator Shibli Faraz pointed out that if Sharif was asked to return back to Pakistan, relations with Saudi Arabia would be negatively affected.

Aziz told the committee that Sharif was not sent by the government to lead the alliance and, therefore, cannot be asked to return. He added that the resolution adopted by Pakistan on the Yemen conflict will serve as the foundation for the role Pakistan will adopt in the current Gulf crisis.

Aziz was referring to the resolution adopted unanimously by the parliament in 2015 when Saudi Arabia launched a military operation against Yemen.

The resolution proposed that Pakistan “should maintain neutrality in the conflict so as to be able to play a proactive diplomatic role to end the crisis”.

The government had decided at the time to continue with its pursuit of a diplomatic solution to the war in Yemen.

Aziz told the committee that Pakistan will maintain that position of neutrality in the deepening Gulf crisis and will refrain from interfering in the affairs of other countries.

Committee Chairperson Nazir Sadiq said that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had not only met with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud as part of his mediation efforts in the Gulf but also spoke with Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani on the phone regarding a resolution to the rift.

In its response to the Middle East crisis, Pakistan had stressed the need for unity in the Muslim world and urged the countries involved to engage in dialogue.

Earlier this month, lawmakers at the National Assembly expressed ‘deep concern’ over the diplomatic rift and passed a resolution urging all countries to ‘show restraint and resolve their differences through dialogue’.

The Lower House of Parliament also called upon the government to take concrete steps towards forging unity amongst the Muslim Ummah in the region.

PTI chief whip in National Assembly Shireen Mazari called for Pakistan to remain neutral and ‘play a positive role’.

A six-member Qatari delegation, headed by businessman Abdulhadi Mana Al Hajri reportedly visited Pakistan days after Saudi Arabia and allies severed ties with the small gas-rich country. The delegation relayed a message from the Qatari Emir, asking Pakistan to play a positive role in resolving the diplomatic crisis engulfing the Middle East.

The Foreign Office, however, officially denied having any knowledge of the visit and said that Pakistan wished to see the crisis resolved in the best possible manner.

 

 

Published in Daily Times, June 22nd, 2017.