Pakistan’s military has pledged to defend Saudi Arabia as tensions between the Sunni Gulf Kingdom and the Shiite Islamic Republic of Iran soar.
“Any threat to Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity would evoke a strong response from Pakistan” Pakistani army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif told reporters on Sunday, following a visit from Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister Mohammed Salman.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also confirmed his support for Saudi Arabia and made a statement welcoming Saudi Arabia’s anti-terrorist coalition initiative.
The Arab League has already backed Saudi Arabia in its spat with Iran, which was triggered by the execution of Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi Arabia and a subsequent attack against the Saudi Embassy in Tehran.
A joint statement by Arab League foreign ministers condemned “hostile acts and provocations of Iran.”
Sunni majority Pakistan has long been a close ally of Saudi Arabia. Many Pakistanis work in Saudi Arabia and send remittances back to their families. Saudi Arabia has also given money to Pakistan in the past to help ease budgetary crises.
Yet Pakistan also has a large Shiite population and has remained on mostly good terms with Iran until now. It is also currently engaged elsewhere. On January 11 it will begin hosting four power talks with the US, China and Afghanistan to try and strike a deal with the Taliban.
It is no wonder then that Pakistan offered it’s “good offices” to try and broker a peace between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
“Pakistan has also always expressed its readiness to offer its good offices to brotherly Muslim countries for resolution of their differences through peaceful dialogue and reconciliation,” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in a statement.
Pakistan does not want to become embroiled in an all-out sectarian war, but it also has obligations to back its ally Saudi Arabia.