In the wake of Turkish troop deployment to Qatar, Pakistan also sent troops, to the anger of Saudi Arabia with whom Pakistan has been a traditional ally. Last week in Jeddah, the Saudi King berated Pakistan Prime Minister, Nawas Sharif, over the move, but Sharif wouldn’t back down on a stance he considers to be “neutral”.
Pakistan’s circumstances are changing with a changing Asia. The massive investment China is making in Pakistan as part of the inter-Asian “One belt-one road” project, linking the Chinese north-western communications hub Urumqi with the Indian Ocean port of Gwadar in southern Pakistan, has transformed the Pakistani economic situation and given it greater financial independence.
After the imprisonment of Shakil Afridi, the doctor who guided the CIA to the place of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, where he was killed in 2011 in Abbottabad, relations with the US soured. Obama, after a while, sought to turn things around towards the end of his administration, by endorsing in 2016 a $ 1 billion aid package.Trump, however, is seeking to cancel the greater part of the package.
The move to place troops in Qatar is part of Pakistan’s strategy for better relations with Iran, and its declaration of independence from Saudi tutelage. This in the long term is seen as serving its interests in Afghanistan, where it can usefully cooperate with Iran, and in Asia more generally. The decline of Saudi Arabian influence in Central Asia, which is accelerating since its blockade of Qatar, will ultimately impact on US influence in a region where, in the past, Saudi has been an important partner.