ISLAMABAD: Former Foreign Minister and Secretary, Ambassador Ikram ul Huq Tuesday said that Pakistan must trade cautiously and not take sides in the Middle East crises despite its imperative role as it needed to resolve its own issues first.
He was addressing a seminar titled "Insecurity and implications for Pakistan in Middle East" organized here by the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). A large number of participants, including members of diplomatic missions in Islamabad, former diplomats, academics, students and journalists attended the seminar.
Ambassador Inamul Haque, who is also Chairman Board of Governors, IPRI, said the turmoil in the Middle East was neither spontaneous nor random. Pakistan did not possess a geographical role in the Middle East but it had its own strategic importance for that region. "Pakistan’s role in Middle East is imperative because of its strategical depth", he added.
He viewed that the West had committed aggression against Iraq, Libya and Syria - all secular authoritarian states and "the world watches silently as Yemen is being destroyed its population decimated through famine and cholera". However, he said, Pakistan faced difficulties diplomatically whenever a political dispute erupted among the Gulf countries.
"Pakistan’s diplomatic fronts are not easy, on one hand its role in Yemen crises is not appreciated by KSA while on the other its role in Syria is not appreciated by the US.”
The Gulf countries, he said, had both geo-strategic as well as geo-political interests in Pakistan but it paid its diplomatic attention and efforts to their issues while it had many diplomatic struggles of its own like the Kashmir issue.
Pakistan, he said, enjoyed good relations with almost all the countries in the Middle East. Security policies of any country kept on evolving with the time and changing world scenarios, he added.
Ikram ul Huq suggested that Pakistan should not play the role of an arbitrator for Saudia-Iran dispute. It was imperative for it not to take sides in any intra-Islamic dispute and especially not in intra-Arab disputes and wars, he stressed.
Speaking on the topic ‘Middle East Crisis and Pakistan’s Foreign Policy Challenges’, Dr. Nazir Hussain , Director, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, said despite the lack of ideological confluence, there were more reasons and opportunities in the Middle East for convergence than divergence which needed to be identified.
He said with the growing political security complexities in the Arab world, it was Palestine and its people who were at loss. ‘Unfortunately, the Middle East has never been at peace since 1920, and this needs to be seen in the context of intra-Arab rivalries," he added.
He pointed out that current geopolitical dynamics were challenging for Pakistan and it needed to maintain a balance in its relations with Riyadh and Tehran. "As our economy benefits from the remittances sent by Pakistani diaspora in the Gulf, Pakistan cannot ignore its Muslim neighbours on this and other counts," he said.
Dr Ejaz Shafi Gilani , Chairman of Gallup-Pakistan, provided up-to-date population, trade, GDP, military expenditure of the 22 economies of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). He shared that with its 400 million population and high per capita income, MENA’s 4 trillion dollar economy had been spending USD 118 million on military expenditures, and receiving USD 136 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI).
He said that Pakistan had 1.9 million workers in Saudi Arabia, while the UAE was home to 1.2 million, and Oman, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain nearly 0.7 million Pakistani workers which were nearly 50 per cent of the total workers abroad. Some 63 per cent of remittances to Pakistan’s national exchequer come from Saudi Arabia (29 per cent), UAE (22 per cent) and other Gulf Cooperation Countries (12 per cent), he added.
He pointed out that contrary to popular perception, Saudi Arabia and the UAE foreign direct investment to Pakistan had reduced dramatically over the years and had now been overtaken by China.