Pakistan’s FM embarks on Middle East peace mission

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi left for Tehran on Sunday to discuss the ongoing situation in the Middle East with the Iranian authorities and plead the case for de-escalation in the region.

According to an official statement released by the country’s foreign ministry in Islamabad on Saturday night, Qureshi will “meet Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and exchange views on the evolving situation in the Middle East/Gulf region.”

He will then proceed to “Riyadh on 13 January to hold talks with Saudi Foreign Minister H.H. Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud and consult on the issues of regional peace and stability.”

The restive Middle East region found itself on the brink of another conflict in the beginning of this month when the United States killed a top Iranian military commander, Major General Qassem Soleimani, in an attack authorized by President Donald Trump.

Soleimani was a high-profile figure in his country and was thought to be the man behind Tehran’s military influence in the region. He was killed in a drone strike while he was in Baghdad only a few days after the American embassy in Iraq was targeted by pro-Iranian militiamen.

Keeping in view the growing instability in the region, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday announced he had instructed Qureshi to travel to Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United States to convey his country’s willingness to play a constructive role for peace in the region.

Khan’s statement on Twitter signified for the first time that his administration was ready to embrace a policy of active engagement in the Middle East in a bid to prevent another conflict in the region.

It also indicated the extent of concern among policymakers in Islamabad about the deteriorating security situation in their neighborhood and its likely implications for their own country.

The prime minister has frequently complained about inheriting a weak economy after winning the last general elections. He has also criticized previous administrations for turning the country into a frontline state and fighting wars on the behalf of other international powers.

Faced with tough economic challenges, his administration believes that any military escalation in the region will negatively impact his country’s economy.

It is in this context that Pakistan’s foreign ministry also expressed “deep concern” over the situation in the region after the United States killed a top Iranian commander, Major General Qassem Soleimani, in Baghdad in the beginning of this month.

The army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, also requested all stakeholders “to avoid rhetoric in favor of diplomatic engagement” in the same situation while talking to US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper recently.

Qureshi’s upcoming visit to Iran and Saudi Arabia is also an extension of the same agenda that seeks to prevent yet another conflict in the Middle East.

He is also scheduled to fly to the United States on January 16 to help pacify the situation in the Gulf region.

“The recent developments [in the Middle East] seriously endanger peace and security in an already volatile region and underscore the need for immediate and collective efforts for a peaceful resolution,” said the foreign office statement on Saturday.

“During these visits,” it continued, “the Foreign Minister will share Pakistan’s perspective on the current situation, stress the imperative of avoiding any conflict, underscore the importance of defusion of tensions, and stress the need for finding a diplomatic way forward.”