The changing Middle East and Pakistan’s interests 

The changing Middle East and Pakistan’s interests 

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Regional politics in the Middle East have undergone radical changes in the last few months. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, two prominent regional groupings formed. But the resolution of this discord spells an end to the post-Arab Spring political order. Owing to Pakistan’s political and geographical proximity to the Middle East and the changing nature of its strategic relevance vis-à-vis its Gulf partners, the country which had become a turf for diplomatic rivalry learnt some lessons but in the hard way. 
Pakistan’s relationship with the Middle East has shown visible signs of change in the last few years as the country’s strategic relevance vis-à-vis these states has declined. This has been coupled with a rise in the regional and global profile of Pakistan’s arch-rival India which has emerged as a massive energy market and thereby a key strategic partner for several countries in the Middle East. 
Pakistan invariably started adopting new discourses with the country’s foreign policy to cope with these challenges. This discourse revolved around the mantra of a new geopolitical block of nations that including Turkey, Iran, Malaysia, China and Russia. Pakistan’s strategic community professed that all these nations endorsed Pakistan’s stance against Indian actions.
It is true Pakistan did receive ample political support from both Turkey and Malaysia. Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdogan and then Malaysian Premier Dr. Mahathir Mohammad strongly denounced Indian moves in Kashmir and stressed the resolution of the conflict through UN resolutions. The other block members only subtly commented on these moves, and countries like Russia remained India’s biggest arms exporter. The export of these advanced weapon systems to India has continuously contributed to tilt the balance of force in India’s favor. Similarly, Iran’s close strategic ties with India and India’s presence in Chahbahar belied the assumptions of Tehran joining any anti-India initiative. 

Pakistan’s policy makers need to end this block mantra and rationally pursue national interests by engaging with all global and regional stakeholders. 

Umer Karim 

The promised political and diplomatic dividends of this grouping did not come through and Pakistan’s decision makers and strategic community made two fundamental miscalculations. The country’s economic dependence on the Gulf in the form of expatriate remittances and financial aid packages never remained unaltered. This basically meant that any Pakistani attempt to align with the ‘revisionist’ block within the Middle East would have furthered economic instability in the country. The second error was a misreading of the political trends within the larger Middle East where it was increasingly becoming apparent that the revisionist block was not prevailing. Additionally, Pakistan itself didn’t adhere to the political worldview of the Turkish government. The lack of ideological synonymity made the alliance further challenging. 
A mix of these economic and political variables adversely affected attempts by Pakistan to develop a new political platform alongside Malaysia and Turkey. Not only did Pakistan have to back out of this initiative, but it also compromised its reputation among these new political allies. The Kuala Lumpur Forum eventually became obsolete with the departure of Dr. Mahathir from premiership. 
Despite these failures, the Pakistan government was successful in normalizing this new block as a function of discourse and to transcend the imagined political formation into public fora. However, as the original political divide within the Middle East is coming to an end and as Russia’s relationship with India strengthens further in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine, Pakistan’s policy makers need to end this block mantra and rationally pursue national interests by engaging with all global and regional stakeholders. 

- Umar Karim is a doctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham. His research focuses on the evolution of Saudi Arabia’s strategic outlook, the Saudi-Iran tussle, conflict in Syria, and the geopolitics of Turkey, Iran and Pakistan. Twitter: @UmarKarim89

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