Zahid Ahmed and Shahram Akbarzadeh
Zahid Ahmed and Shahram Akbarzadeh: ‘Pakistan caught between Iran and Saudi Arabia’, Contemporary South Asia, Published online June 2020.
Publication year: 2020

Pakistan claims to maintain neutrality in the Iran–Saudi rift. Sustaining this approach, however, has been problematic against a backdrop of intensifying Iran–Saudi rivalry. Pakistan’s choices suggest a tilt towards Saudi Arabia. Based on extensive fieldwork in Islamabad, this paper focuses on the meanings and uses of neutrality in Pakistan’s foreign policy. The paper argues that Pakistan cannot be neutral due to its stronger cultural, economic and defence ties with Saudi Arabia but it promotes this rhetoric due to a combination of demographic, geographic and geopolitical factors. Islamabad’s claim of neutrality serves the dual purpose of the national interests in relation to domestic and foreign affairs. Based on its economic, sectarian and geopolitical realities, Pakistan desires a neutrality in the Iranian-Saudi rivalry but it is very difficult because it has strong and multifaceted relations with Saudi Arabia. Based on the assessment of Pakistan’s foreign policy choices, we argue that Pakistan continues to lean away from Iran towards Saudi Arabia.