On Qatar, Pakistan walks a diplomatic tightrope (JMD on Al Jazeera)

Parliament expresses 'deep 
concern' over Gulf diplomatic 
rift, but government stops short 
of taking a side.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif holds close ties with the ruling f
amilies in both Saudi 
Arabia and Qatar [EPA]

Islamabad, Pakistan - Pakistan's parliament has expressed 
its "deep concern" over the blockade and severing of ties with 
Qatar by several Arab states, calling for the government to 
help mediate in the crisis between the Gulf state and its 
INSIDE STORY: What is behind the diplomatic breakdown in the Gulf?
"This House calls upon all countries to show restraint and 
resolve all differences through dialogue," read a resolution 
passed by the lower house of parliament on Thursday.

The measure came as Pakistan's foreign ministry reiterated 
country's "concern" at the escalating situation - but stopped 
short of endorsing one side or another.
"Pakistan believes in unity among Muslim countries and has 
made consistent and serious efforts for its promotion," Nafees 
Zakaria, the Pakistani foreign office spokesperson, said on 
"We are therefore concerned at the situation."
But Zakaria refused to comment when probed on whether 
Pakistan had taken any steps to mediate the crisis or was 
also considering severing ties with Qatar.

He also had nothing to say when pressed to provide Pakistan's 
position on the allegations of "supporting terrorism" 
levelled against Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab 
Emirates (UAE) and their allies.

Pakistan has a close economic and strategic 
relationship with Saudi Arabia, which is leading the 
calls for the blockade and severing of ties.

Yet, in the past it has resisted pressure to wade 
into regional conflict in the Middle East.

In April 2015, Pakistan's parliament voted to remain neutral 
in the war in Yemen, despite pressure to join a Saudi-led 
military alliance targeting Houthi rebels in the country.

On Monday, Pakistan's foreign office indicated that it currently 
had no plans to sever ties with Qatar.

What's at stake for Pakistan

Pakistan's relationship with Saudi Arabia and the UAE is 
based on close diplomatic ties, but also deep economic 

Saudi Arabia is home to more than 1.9 million Pakistanis, 
mostly unskilled workers, while the UAE hosts a further 
1.2 million, according to government data. 

Qatar, a much smaller country by comparison, hosts only 
Pakistani citizens. 

Those expatriate Pakistanis have a significant impact on 
their country's economy, with foreign remittances playing 
an important role in bolstering Pakistan's foreign exchange 

Analysts believe that any attempts to expel Pakistani workers 
or block remittances could have a major impact on Pakistan's 

Saudi Arabia tops the list of countries with the highest 
remittances to Pakistan, with $4.52bn in funds sent home 
by Pakistanis in the current fiscal year, according to Pakistan's 
central bank.

The UAE comes in next at $3.47bn, with Qatar appearing 
much further down the list with only $304m in remittances.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are also two of Pakistan's major 
trading partners. The South Asian country has imported 
goods and services worth $5.84bn from the UAE in the 
current fiscal year, and a further $1.95bn from Saudi Arabia, 
according to the central bank.

It also sold exports worth $852m and $300m to those two 
countries respectively.

By comparison, Pakistan sold exports worth $42.6m to Qatar 
in the current fiscal year, while importing $864m worth of 
goods and services.
The bulk of those imports have been in the form of Liquefied 
Natural Gas (LNG), after Pakistan signed a landmark 15-year 
deal with Qatar in February 2016.

In addition, Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif holds 
close ties with the ruling families in  both Saudi Arabia and 
Qatar. In 2000, when he fled a military coup, Sharif resided 
in Jeddah, a Saudi Arabian port city on the Red Sea, for eight 
years while in exile.

The Saudi government also gave Sharif's government a grant 
of $1.5bn in March 2014 to help meet debt-service obligations 
and undertake large development projects. At the time, 
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar termed the grant "a gift". 

In more recent times, Sharif has relied heavily upon the 
testimony of former Qatari Prime Minister Hamad Bin 
Jasim Bin Jaber Al Thani as a part of his defence in an 
ongoing corruption investigation at the Supreme Court 
that could unseat him as prime minister.

'If push comes to shove'

"Of all Muslim nations, Pakistan is probably in the most 
difficultposition," James Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S. 
Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore 
and specialist on Pakistan's relations with Gulf countries, 
told Al Jazeera. 

Dorsey pointed to the appointment of Pakistan's former 
army chief Raheel Sharif to lead a 39-member military 
alliance put together bySaudi Arabia, ostensibly to combat 
the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) armed group, 
as a concession the country was forced to make after 
refusing to join the war in Yemen.

Tehran and others have criticised the alliance as being 
focused more on furthering Saudi objectives against Shia-
majority Iran in the region than against ISIL.

Roughly 15 percent of Pakistan's roughly 200 million 
people are Shia Muslims, and the opposition at home was 
one of the major reasons the country did not send troops to 
fight the war in Yemen, according to analysts.

Dorsey said the recent rift with Qatar "potentially puts 
Pakistan in an even tighter spot".

He added: "Obviously Pakistan has a historic relationship 
with Saudi Arabia, and Saudis are not only very important 
to them [economically], but also very influential on all 
kinds of levels. But they also have a very close relationship 
with the Qataris, economically."

But Dorsey argued that while the relationship with Qatar is 
strong, Saudi Arabia has more leverage to exert on Pakistan, 
if push comes to shove.

"There is a lot of Saudi money going into Pakistan. When 
Pakistan has a financial shortage, there are two places they 
go: Saudi and China," he said.

"There are a lot of Pakistanis working in Saudi Arabia. […] 
They could keep the Pakistanis and stop the remittances. 
And all of this would hit Pakistan quite hard."

Moreover, Saudi Arabia has also embarked on a soft power 
campaign in Pakistan for decades, said Dorsey, whose 
research has tracked donations and funding trails from the 
Gulf kingdom to Pakistani religious organisations.

"Saudi Arabia in the last four decades has waged the single 
largest public diplomacy campaign in history. […] That 
campaign was designed to further a Sunni Muslim 
ultraconservatism world view."

Political opposition at home

Hasan Askari Rizvi, an Islamabad-based political analyst, 
said it seems unlikely Pakistan would wade into this regional 
conflict, not least because of potential political opposition at 

"I don't think they will sever ties," he told Al Jazeera.

"There will be domestic opposition, there will be political 
opposition that this is not an advisable strategy to get 
totally involved in a conflict in the Arab world."

Rizvi's view seems borne out by Thursday's parliamentary 
resolution, which was moved by key leaders of the country's 
opposition parties.

Either way, Pakistan will serve as an interesting test case 
for major non-Arab Muslim states around the world, bo
analysts said.
Turkey and Iran have already come out in support of Qatar, 
promising food aid and sending troops to the country this 

Other countries with major Muslim populations such as 
Indonesia,  Malaysia and Nigeria have remained largely 
neutral, so far.

Some smaller countries, such as the island nations of 
Mauritius and Maldives have joined the boycott of Qatar.

"A lot of the Muslim states don't want to get sucked into 
this," Dorsey said. 

"What you'll see is countries will try and muddle through 
this,maybe take some sort of step [to isolate Qatar], but 
stopping short of fully taking sides. The Saudis and Emiratis 
may not find that sufficient, so it remains to be seen what 
happens if and when [they] try to put Muslim countries 
against the wall."

Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera's Web Correspondent in 
Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim


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