ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan has said that a military conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran would be “disastrous” for Pakistan and it is for this reason that his government is making efforts to defuse regional tensions.
In a wide-ranging interview with German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW), published on Thursday, the premier also shed light on the balancing act that Islamabad often finds itself in while maintaining ties with its neighbours.
“It’s true that we live in a difficult neighbourhood and we have to balance our actions. For instance, Saudi Arabia is one of Pakistan’s greatest friends and has always been there for us. Then we have Iran, with which we have always maintained a good relationship,” he said in response to a question by DW Editor-in-Chief Ines Pohl.
“Therefore, a military conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran would be disastrous for Pakistan. We are trying our best to make sure that ties between these two countries do not deteriorate. It is a region that cannot afford another conflict.”
Prime Minister Imran said Pakistan is also “doing its best” to bring peace to Afghanistan. “It is a country that has suffered so much in the past 40 years. We pray that the Taliban, the Americans and the Afghan government achieve peace,” he added.
His comments come a week after the United States and Iran came to the brink of war after Iran launched missile attacks on US-led forces in Iraq, in retaliation for the US drone strike on Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani whose killing raised fears of a wider war in the Middle East.
The situation de-escalated after US President Donald Trump, while delivering a televised address, extended an olive branch to the “people and leaders” of Iran to work together for “shared priorities”. In the same breath, he announced more “punishing” economic sanctions against Tehran.
Taking note of the dangerously high tensions, Prime Minister Imran sent Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to Tehran and Riyadh to encourage exercising of “maximum restraint” in the dispute. Qureshi is currently in Washington as part of his efforts to reduce tensions between Iran and the United States.
‘Lukewarm response’ to Kashmir
Discussing the tensions between India and Pakistan that worsened after New Delhi scrapped the special status of Indian-occupied Kashmir in August last year, Prime Minister Imran reiterated that India has been taken over by the extremist “Hindutva” ideology
“It is a tragedy for India — and for its neighbours — that the country has been taken over by the RSS, an organisation which also assassinated the great Mahatma Gandhi. A nuclear-armed country is being run by extremists, and Kashmir has been under siege for over five months,” he told DW.
The premier said it was “sadly” true that the international community has not paid enough attention to the Kashmir conflict. “Consider the sort of media attention the Hong Kong protests are getting. The tragedy of Kashmir is much greater,” he stressed.
Asked why was this was so, the prime minister said: “Unfortunately, commercial interests are more important for Western countries. India is a big market and that is the reason behind the lukewarm response to what is happening to some eight million people in Kashmir, as well as to minorities in India. […] Also, strategically, India is supposed to be a counterbalance to China, and therefore you see a completely different approach to the two conflicts.”
Responding to the allegation that the human rights situation in Azad Jammu and Kashmir is not good, Prime Minister Khan said: “Well, it’s very easy to find out. We invite anyone from anywhere in the world to visit the Pakistan side of Kashmir and then go to the Indian side. Let them decide.”
He once again justified not speaking out publicly against China’s treatment of its Muslim Uighur population, saying the scale of what is happening in India “is not comparable to what is supposedly happening to the Uighurs in China”.
“Second, China has been our great friend. It has helped us in our most difficult times because of the economic crisis my government inherited. Therefore, we do talk about things with China privately, not publicly, as these are sensitive issues.”
Pakistan influence on Taliban
Talking about the current status of the Afghan peace talks, Prime Minister Imran said in his view they were “heading towards a ceasefire”.
“Peace in Afghanistan would open up trading opportunities in Central Asia. It [Afghanistan] would also become an economic corridor for us. If there is peace in Afghanistan, our people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which borders Afghanistan, will also benefit,” the premier said.
Asked how much influence Pakistan still wields over the Afghan Taliban, he replied: “Pakistan has played its part in peace talks. There was a hostage situation and with Pakistan’s efforts, two out of three Western hostages were released. So, we are doing our best with whatever influence we have.”