Implications of Military Flare-up in the Persian Gulf

Ambassador Ali Sarwar Naqvi Sb!

Distinguished panelists,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Assalam-o-Alaikum and a very good morning to you all!

It is my great pleasure to welcome all of you at Islamabad Policy Institute for a discussion on the evolving situation in the Persian Gulf and the broader Middle East region.

The Middle East region is of deep interest to Pakistan and has a special significance for the world peace. Unfortunately, the region has been suffering from turmoil and instability for decades. However, it witnessed the worst upheaval in 2019 with protests in Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Algeria and Sudan; and the ongoing conflict in Libya, Yemen, and Syria. Meanwhile, Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates remained pitted against Iran.

Nevertheless, there were also signs of hope that the trajectory of the happenings in the Middle East would change soon.

The New Year, however, started on a greater turbulent note with the United States assassinating the Commander of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Gen Qassem Soleimani for which it had no legal or moral grounds. It is very obvious that President Donald Trump took this very dangerous decision in view of his growing domestic problems as he faces impeachment proceedings. He, moreover, had to appease his neoconservative base, who were unhappy with him over the failure of his ‘maximum pressure policy’ against Iran.

Gen Soleimani’s assassination has kicked off a major crisis, which would have wide ranging and long lasting consequences for the region and beyond. Iran has retaliated with precision strikes against two American bases in Iraq. The strikes carried lot of symbolism even though America did not suffer any casualties. The subsequent American reaction suggested that it had decided to back down and allow things to settle.

But, that may be an overly optimistic reading of the ground situation. There is still a very real possibility of eruption of a low-intensity US – Iran conflict in the region. In other words, the likes of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and former American national security adviser John Bolton, who have long sought a war with Iran, will get one. This would sound good for the US defense industry as well.

Analysts are also keenly watching the opportunities this crisis would bring for Russia to expand its footprint in the Middle East.

As we speak Pakistan has launched yet another mediation effort despite not getting much success in earlier endeavours. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was in Tehran yesterday. He is today visiting Riyadh and would later this week go to Washington as well. At one of our earlier roundtables, the speakers noted that Pakistan was an ideal candidate for mediating in the Persian Gulf. However, recent decisions including the no show at Kuala Lumpur Summit and the ambivalent stance on the assassination of Gen Soleimani suggest that Pakistan may have to a certain extent diminished its credibility as a neutral mediator.

Experts today would deliberate on these and other aspects of this unfolding crisis. All of us are looking forward to a fruitful discussion. I would like to thank all of you once again for joining us today.

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