Iran’s foreign minister to visit Islamabad today
ISLAMABAD – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is due in Islamabad today (Wednesday) and is likely to urge it to reject a request to join a Saudi-led campaign against Iran-allied Houthi forces in Yemen.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called on Tuesday for Iran to get involved in talks on security in Yemen as parliament debated whether Pakistan should join the Saudi-led operation.
The debate resumes on Wednesday.
Zarif has repeatedly said the conflict in Yemen should be overcome through dialogue and not firepower. Other countries accuse Iran of using the conflict as a cover to expand its regional influence.
“All countries must work toward establishing stability and preventing the spread of insecurity in the region,” Zarif said last month.
The Sunni royal family of Saudi Arabia and Iran’s Shi’ite theocracy are rivals for power in the Middle East. Their competition frequently fuels sectarian violence.
Last month, a Saudi-led coalition began conducting air strikes in Yemen against Houthi rebels allied with Iran. Saudi Arabia and Yemen share a border and Saudi Arabia says it is afraid that instability might spill over to its territory.
Saudi Arabia wants its staunch ally, Sunni-majority Pakistan, to join the coalition, and has requested ships, aircraft and troops.
Pakistan’s parliament began debating the request on Monday and legislators have been united in the view that Pakistan should not send troops for the Saudis to use in Yemen.
Although there are many groups in the complex Yemen conflict, Pakistani lawmakers fear it could develop into a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and inflame already simmering sectarian tension at home.
Pakistan shares a long, porous border with Iran in its gas- and mineral-rich southwestern province of Baluchistan, where separatist rebels have for years been battling the government.
Iran has proposed building an export pipeline to gas-starved Pakistan, a project postponed because of the threat of US sanctions and Pakistan’s lack of cash and investors.
Eight Iranian border guards were killed in southeast Iran in a cross-border militant raid near the frontier with Pakistan on Monday, Iranian media reported.
Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan province has long been plagued by unrest from both drug gangs and militants. The population of the province is predominantly Sunni.
Prime Minister Sharif has said he will defend Saudi Arabia’s “territorial integrity” but not spelled out what, if any, commitments he has made. On Tuesday, Sharif told lawmakers Iran should be part of the debate. – Reuters