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Editorial: Pakistan after Iran-Saudi Deal

The China-brokered accord offers a chance for Pakistan to bolster its regional ties

by Editorial

File photo of the long-pending Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. Atta Kenare—AFP

The China-brokered Iran-Saudi deal has changed the regional political scenario, compelling Pakistan to take another look at its relations with Iran and course-correct rifts that had developed over Islamabad’s ties with Gulf Arabs and internal sectarianism. Of special significance is the Iranian gas pipeline that has been pending for decades, as well as an ongoing sectarian divide fueled by terrorist strikes on Shia Hazaras in Balochistan. Despite being a non-sectarian state, unlike Iran, Pakistan is no stranger to sectarian violence between its Sunni majority and Shia minority and will undoubtedly need to address these concerns to establish “normal” relations with Tehran.

Ironically, the “non-democratic” Gulf Arab states are better able to “adjust” to normalization with Iran than a democratic Pakistan. Since breaking their diplomatic ties in 2016, Iran and Saudi Arabia have remained on opposite sides of nearly every regional conflict, from Syria to Iraq to Yemen. Their peace deal signals a geopolitical shift that sidelines sectarian divides in favor of peace and prosperity.

Iran and Pakistan share more than 900 kilometers of a common border and have many mutual geopolitical, cultural, and religious interests. However, problems persist, especially due to their differing views on Afghanistan. Militant incursions from the Taliban-led state have left regions in Pakistan with a minimal writ of the state, with some of them unfortunately lying close to the border with Iran. In the two years since the Taliban returned to power in Kabul, Iran has sought to bolster ties with the Gulf, even as Pakistan was dealing with the fallout, hosting refugees and suffering clashes along the Durand Line. The Iran-Saudi deal offers a chance for a reset; now Pakistan must decide whether or not it avails it.

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