EghtesadOnline: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is expected to start a regional tour on Saturday with the aim of mediating between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Pakistani sources disclosed.
According to Dawn, the prime minister would first travel to Iran where he will have a night stay. His meeting with President Hassan Rouhani has been scheduled for Sunday. He will later in the day go to Riyadh for meetings with the Saudi leadership.
Speaking at the weekly media briefing on Thursday, Pakistani Foreign Office Spokesman Mohammad Faisal confirmed Khan’s upcoming trip, Financial Tribune reported.
“The visits of the prime minister to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran are on the cards,” he said without giving dates for the trip. “I will update you as and when things unfold.”
The mediation initiative is being undertaken at the request of Saudi Arabia during Khan’s last visit there.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman had asked him to help defuse tensions with Iran, as Saudi Arabia wanted to avoid war.
Iranians have expressed their readiness to accept the offer, but have made it conditional to the US and other western forces leaving the region and Riyadh modifying its regional policy, particularly on the Yemeni issue.
Pakistan is not new to mediation between the two Persian Gulf rivals.
There have been several major and minor initiatives since the 80s.
Pakistan first tried its hand at mediation during the Iran-Iraq war and in 1997 Islamabad hosted a meeting of the leadership of Iran and Saudi Arabia on the sidelines on an Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit.
The most recent initiative was in 2016 when the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief General Raheel Sharif tried to get involved after tensions flared between the two sides after the execution of prominent Saudi Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr without due process, which led to the severance of Tehran-Riyadh diplomatic relations. On that occasion, Saudi Arabia did not encourage the initiative.
Former foreign secretary, Aizaz Chaudhry, who was in office at the time of the last initiative, said Pakistan had a vested interest in Iran-Saudi Arabia rapprochement.
Speaking at a roundtable conference hosted by the Islamabad Policy Institute on “Mediation in the Persian Gulf: Initiatives, Strategies and Obstacles,” Chaudhry noted that Pakistan has strong credentials for such a role, but at the same time there are huge challenges, including deep mistrust, Saudi fears about rising Iranian influence and regional power play.
“This is a timely and historic initiative. We, however, have to be realistic because of the difficult and complex issues involved in this rivalry,” he said.
“The geopolitical situation and all sides realizing their vulnerability make the timing of the initiative most conducive.”
The former foreign secretary proposed that Khan should warn the leaders of both countries about the consequences of war, seek a minimum common agenda on which the effort could be taken forward, offer to host a summit or a senior leadership meeting of both countries in Pakistan and renew good offices to both countries.
The minimum agenda, he added, could be an understanding over not attacking each other and not interrupting oil traffic.
Pakistan’s former ambassador to Iran, Asif Durrani, observed that good sense had prevailed with Saudi Arabia, after it realized that the war in Yemen was not going its way even after four years.
Durrani emphasized the need for confidence-building measures between Iran and Saudi Arabia for the peace effort to progress.