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    Saudi King Salman (C) meets Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (L) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia January 18, 2016 in this handout photo provided by Saudi Press Agency

    Pakistan Playing 'Intriguing' Role in Saudi-Iranian 'Cold War'

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    Mass Execution in Saudi Arabia Whips Up Tensions (108)
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    Pakistan's political and military leadership is making major efforts to ease tensions between Riyadh and Tehran, which some have called a cold war, as Islamabad does not want to become a "battleground" for the two leading Sunni and Shiite nations, Arif Rafiq wrote for National Interest.

    The Sunni-dominated South Asian country, which is also home to a large Shiite minority, has recently managed to contain sectarian violence. Deteriorating relations between the oil kingdom and the Islamic Republic could have an adverse effect on this process.

    "While a reigniting of sectarian tensions in Pakistan would not constitute an existential threat, it would jeopardize Pakistan's efforts to consolidate counterinsurgency and counterterrorism gains made nationwide over the past two years," the president of Vizier Consulting explained.

    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, right, shakes hands with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the start of their meeting in Tehran, Iran, (file photo)
    © AP Photo / Vahid Salemi
    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, right, shakes hands with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the start of their meeting in Tehran, Iran, (file photo)

    Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Gen. Raheel Sharif met with King Salman and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani earlier this week in a bid to promote peace between the two countries to prevent this from happening.

    Islamabad has also been motivated to act as a peacemaker by external factors, primarily by the shifting power balance in the Middle East. One of the major regional developments includes the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal that resulted in the US, the EU and the UN lifting sanctions imposed on Tehran.

    Supporters of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr protest against the execution of Shi'ite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, during a demonstration in Baghdad January 4, 2016
    © REUTERS / Thaier Al-Sudani
    Supporters of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr protest against the execution of Shi'ite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, during a demonstration in Baghdad January 4, 2016

    Another key event saw Saudi Arabia execute a prominent Shiite cleric, sparking worldwide outrage. In Tehran, protesters set the Saudi embassy on fire. The oil kingdom subsequently broke off ties with Iran.

    However, Pakistan is not a 100-percent impartial mediator, the expert noted, calling Islamabad's position "intriguing." The South Asian country is Saudi Arabia's strategic ally. Up to 2 million Pakistanis work in the oil kingdom, which has also provided financial aid to Islamabad in its times of need.

    "A severe, existential crisis in Saudi Arabia would shock the Pakistani economy and result in the potential loss of a strategic security partner," Arif Rafiq noted.

    At the same time, Islamabad is also keen on promoting economic and energy ties with the Islamic Republic. "This resource-rich country can help Pakistan overcome its current energy crisis," Pakistani lawyer Mohsin Raza Malik wrote for the Lahore-based daily, the Nation. Finalizing the Iranian-Pakistani gas pipeline project is another priority.

    As a result, Pakistan has tried to refrain from steps that could upset the bilateral ties. For instance, the country refused to take part in the Saudi-led operation in Yemen – much to Riyadh's disappointment. 

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    Mass Execution in Saudi Arabia Whips Up Tensions (108)

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    bilateral relations, diplomacy, geopolitics, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, Nawaz Sharif, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan
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