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Dhaka Tribune

Can Mohammed bin Salman avert an Indo-Pak war?

Saudi Arabia is the only regional Asian power with ongoing warm ties with both Pakistan and India

Update : 05 Mar 2019, 12:01 AM

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has gained a reputation as a man of power since he has come to prominence in the Saudi Kingdom two years ago. The war in Yemen, the campaign against Iran and Iranian proxies across the Middle East, and the internal reforms have all showcased his uncompromising stance on issues.

As India and Pakistan are currently facing each other in the most dangerous border clashes over Kashmir in decades, the Saudi Crown Prince may be the man best placed to mediate between the two parties and broker a sustainable de-escalation.

The US traditionally played the role of the mediator, and it does seem that the State Department is actively working in the background to open communication channels between the two sides; however, despite the improvement of relations between the US and India in recent years, the ties are still not strong enough to de-escalate this situation.

At the same time, the US-Pakistan relations have weakened, as the latter has firmly moved in China’s sphere of influence.

China also won’t be helpful in mediation attempts, considering its regional rivalry with India.

Delhi will have no trust in Beijing’s intentions and impartiality in any process that the latter might organize.

As for Russia’s interjection in the crisis, it will likely be rebuffed by Pakistan, owing to Moscow’s long-time close relationship with Delhi, which dates back to the Cold War.

Iran, meanwhile, is a traditional foe to Pakistan, hence why Islamabad would not sign up for anything that Tehran might offer.

That leaves the Saudi Kingdom as the only regional Asian power with ongoing warm ties with both Pakistan and India. The Saudi-Pakistani relationship goes back decades, and it was the Saudis who helped Pakistan with financial assistance for its nuclear program when Islamabad developed its nuclear arsenal in response to India’s successful nuclear arms project.

The Saudi-Indian relationship is more recent, but very important to both sides, as they share the same concerns and interests when it comes to Chinese and Iranian regional strategic agendas.

Instead of affecting the historic Saudi-Pakistani ties, the new Saudi-Indian good relations are being perceived as positive for possible conflict resolution.

Furthermore, the Saudis will only maintain this extraordinary position of leverage and power if they are successful in maintaining the regional balance between India and Pakistan in South Asia, which means their intentions can almost be trusted implicitly by both sides.

The opportunity to broker peace between two nuclear powers did not pass Mohammed bin Salman, who immediately dispatched the Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Adel al-Jubeir, to Islamabad with an urgent message for the Pakistani government.

The contents of the message are unknown, but soon after the announcement of al-Jubeir’s dispatch, Pakistan announced that it will hand over the captured pilot.

All diplomacy happens behind closed doors, but if the letter influenced the decision of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, then this is a true testament to how swiftly and efficiently Mohammed bin Salman is able to manoeuvre in such a delicate situation.

It is yet to be determined, if the Saudi Crown Prince could help in returning the status quo and potentially improving the relationship between the two countries. His success is imperative because war is in neither parties’ interest. 

Azeem Ibrahim is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Global Policy and Adj Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College. He tweets @AzeemIbrahim. This article was first published in Al-Arabiya.

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