Pakistan and the Middle East

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pakistan's ties to the middle east are based on history, religion, security, and economics.

Pakistan's historical links with the Middle East go back to the Arab invasion of Sindh in 712 c.e. The ArabIslamic and Iranian cultures have deeply influenced the civilization of the areas that now comprise Pakistan. Contemporary geopolitical considerations have reinforced Pakistan's interest in the Arab region. For security as well as religious reasons, Pakistan has attached great significance to its relations with the Arab Islamic states.

The perception of a security threat from India and their dispute over Kashmir have impelled Pakistan to look toward the Islamic countries as "natural allies." Nevertheless, Pakistan's use of common Islamic symbols and shared religious identity did not satisfy the countries of the Middle East. Instead, Pakistan's decision to join the U.S.-sponsored security pacts in the 1950s provoked Arab hostility, particularly from Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. Archrival India found the political climate in the radical Arab states more congenial for its diplomacy. Pakistan's relationship with the West brought it closer to Iran, Turkey, and pro-West moderate Arab states.

In response to declining U.S. interest in military alliances, Pakistan's Middle East policy underwent a fundamental transformation in the early 1970s. As an alternative to dwindling Western support, Pakistan began to look toward the Arab oil-producing countries for economic assistance. Under Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Iran became an important regional ally and also a source of much-needed foreign aid. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states showed tremendous interest in Pakistan's security and economic development.

With the manifold increase in oil revenues, the Gulf region became more attractive for Pakistan as a market for its surplus manpower. Millions of Pakistanis have worked on developmental projects in the Gulf countries. The Pakistani workers abroad not only have lessened the pressure on unemployment at home but also have earned the country tens of billions of dollars. In the peak years (19801988), Pakistani workers remitted about three billion U.S. dollars a year that offset the huge gap in the balance of trade.

While Pakistan has unilaterally and unconditionally supported the Arab states in their disputes with Israel, including a Palestinian homeland, it has not received unanimous political backing of all the Middle Eastern countries in its disputes with India. In pursuit of bilateralism, Pakistan has carefully avoided taking sides in conflicts between the Muslim states. In the IranIraq War in the 1980s, Pakistan remained strictly neutral. Pakistan's participation in Operation Desert Storm against Iraq in 1991 was a different matter. It was launched under the United Nations banner, and the coalition of Western and Arab states enjoyed broader legitimacy in forcing Iraqi invaders from Kuwait.

Over the years, Pakistan has emerged as an important regional actor in the Middle East, although it maintains a low profile. It has security protocols with a large number of Middle Eastern states. Pakistan provides training facilities to the armed forces of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Jordan, United Arab Emi-rates, Kuwait, and Bahrain. Also, Libya had access to these facilities in the 1970s. Pakistani military personnel serve in various capacities as trainers and advisers for Arab armies. In the 1980s, Pakistan stationed about 10,000 of its troops in Saudi Arabia. As a quid pro quo, Saudi Arabia financed the modernization of Pakistan's air force. In the latter part of the twentieth century, among developing countries, Pakistan had the second largest military presence overseas (after Cuba)all of it was in the Middle East.


Burke, S. M., and Ziring, Lawrence. Pakistan's Foreign Policy: An Historical Analysis, 2d edition. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Rizvi, Hasan-Askari. Pakistan and the Geostrategic Environment: A Study of Foreign Policy. New York: St. Martin's, 1993.

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