Saudi Arabia-Qatar crisis: Pakistan's quest to remain neutral is not an option but necessity

Having just pulled itself out of the dilemma over joining Saudi Arabia's war on Yemen, Pakistan seems to be caught up in the middle of a new West Asia conundrum with Saudi Arabia asking Islamabad to pick between Doha and Riyadh.

File photo of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with former Army chief General Raheel Sharif. Reuters

File photo of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with former Army chief General Raheel Sharif. Reuters

In his recent visit to Saudi Arabia, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was asked to choose between the two Gulf nations by the Saudi rulers, media reports said.

“Are you with us or with Qatar?” King Salman bin Abdulaziz is known to have said Sharif in Jeddah on Monday, reported The Express Tribune citing diplomatic sources.

Sharif, who was in the Saudi kingdom to find a diplomatic solution to the Qatar crisis, is known to have said "no" to the Saudis request to join their side in the current crisis against Qatar, the paper further added.

Islamabad enjoys cordial ties with both Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

With over 1.9 million Pakistanis living in Saudi Arabia and bilateral trade in billions of dollars, Saudi authorities have leverage over Pakistan, and they have been persistent in their demands that Islamabad assists them in the Yemeni war as well as a larger regional security alliance led by Riyadh, reported

Despite the Parliament of Pakistan's decision last year against becoming a party to the intensifying Saudi-Iranian conflict in West Asia, in April, Islamabad approved the appointment of Raheel Sharif, the country's former army chief, as head of the 39-member Saudi-led military coalition. Although Riyadh says the Muslim nations' alliance was formed to fight terrorism in the region, experts point out that it is primarily an anti-Iran grouping, the website reported.

Pakistan has good diplomatic, economic and other bilateral relations with Qatar also. More than one lakh Pakistani nationals live in the country, and in December 2015, the two nations had signed a deal in which Qatar agreed to supply Pakistan with $16 billion of liquefied natural gas to ease the country’s energy crisis.

A relatively tiny nation which shares its only land border with a much bigger Saudi Arabia, Qatar nevertheless punches much above its weight by having the world’s third biggest gas reserves and highest per capita income.

Effect of the crisis on Pakistan's society

Treading a careful path since the crisis erupted, media reports said that Islamabad has offered the Saudis to use its influence over Qatar to diffuse the situation. Sharif has also reportedly offered to visit Qatar, Kuwait and Turkey to work out a peaceful solution.

As Riyadh has accused Qatar of having ties with groups funded by Iran, Islamabad is particularly sensitive to the current situation, because of the presence of a large number of Shias in the country.

According to, Pakistani intelligentsia and civil society have advised Sharif to maintain a neutral stance in the present West Asia crisis as Islamabad's support to Saudi Arabia could also increase the Sunni-Shiite tension Pakistan.

With inputs from PTI

Updated Date: Jun 15, 2017 15:43 PM

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