Three Pakistani high-level delegations are touring the Persian Gulf region. Two of them are most certainly substantive - President Asif Zardari's visit to Kuwait and Interior Minister Rahman Malik's to Riyadh - while the visit by Farooq Naek, the chairman of the Pakistani senate [upper house of parliament] to Iran seems more of a goodwill visit. Not that generating 'goodwill' with Iran at this juncture of great volatility in the Saudi-Iranian relationship or US-Iran standoff is any less than a suggestive balancing act by Pakistan.
From all appearance, Malik's arrival in Riyadh out of the blue Saturday on an unscheduled visit catches the eye. Malik is no ordinary cabinet minister. He is a hatchet man of much importance and his responsibilities cover the range of security issues affecting/surrounding/engulfing/threatening Pakistan today. Second, the consultations took place after bin Laden's killing. That Malik left home turf at all when the temperature is running so high within Pakistan underlines that there was something of extreme urgency and sensitivity to be discussed with the Saudi leadership at the highest level. He was deputed as special envoy so that he could talk straight with the Saudi king.
There have been persistent reports that Riyadh and Ankara were lately prevailing upon the Pakistani leadership to let the Americans have bin Laden. Whether or not Pakistan heeded the Saudi advice has become a moot point. The Abbottabad operation has damaged the operational level working relationship between the US and Pakistani intelligence agencies and militaries, which needs some immediate therapy as time is of the essence of the matter in Afghanistan. Finally, the Saudis are all ears as to what happens now to al-Qaeda, whose original mission, let us not forget, was to effect "regime change" in the Arabian Peninsula and banish the Saudi royal family - although it is myopic to overlook the convoluted and covert Saudi dealings with the al-Qaeda organism all along.
No doubt, Malik briefed the Saudi leadership on what has been gleaned from bin Laden's family members who are in Pakistani custody. Some of them at least would long to go home in Saudi Arabia. Evidently, Malik was on a visit of extreme sensitivity for the Saudis, too. This was evident from the fact that just about all the people who matter in the Saudi security and foreign policy establishment were present when King Abdullah received Malik. From the list of Saudi officials present, it seems matters of intelligence sharing, scale of any Pakistani help in the event of instability in the GCC region, and Afghanistan and US-Pakistan relations would have figured in the talks. To be sure, the Saudis will be wondering how the Taliban leadership would take all these happenings - Bin Laden killing and the tensions in US-Pakistan relations. Besides, what happens now to the Saudi efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table? It seems highly unlikely, though, that the Saudis approve the unilateralist US operation in Abbottabad, which now leaves a lot of debris all around. Recent reports suggest that King Abdullah takes a dim view of the US regional policies under Barack Obama.
Zardari's Kuwait visit is also not lacking in substance, although of a patently lower grade than Malik's mission to Saudi Arabia in sensitivity. Zardari's accent was on the generous financial help that Kuwait extended to Pakistan over the years. Interestingly, Kuwaiti PM Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah told Zardari that his country always valued Pakistan's support for Kuwait "in every difficult hour, particularly after the Iraqi invasion in 1991." A highly relevant and topical invocation of time past, isn't it?
Equally, Naek was well-received in Tehran. The top leadership met him - Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Ali Laijani and Alae'ddin Broujerdi. The APP dispatch makes out that the talks went beyond protocol needs and was not exactly lacking in political content. At any rate, Naek reportedly told Ahmedinejad that "Peace in Afghanistan was linked with Pakistan and it had no military solution. It could only be resolved through dialogue among the major regional players, including Iran." Larijani stressed that Iran and Pakistan are on the same in the fight against terrorism.
Again, Naek assured Iranian FM Ali Akbar Salehi (who is travelling to Islamabad shortly) about curbing the activities of the Baluchi terrorist group Jundullah (which is alleged to have links with the US intelligence operatives in AfPak). Most important, he told Salehi that Pakistan believed in the "policy of non-interference and non-intervention" and that the "sovereignty and territorial integrity of every state ought to be protected for establishment of permanent peace in the region". The big question is, what exactly did Naek have in mind? There is so much foreign interference and intervention taking place in the region - GCC intervention in Bahrain, US operations in Abbottabad, US drone attacks on Pakistan, US presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, US threats to Iran, etc. Conceivably, Naek sought to set an orientation for Salehi's agenda during the latter's forthcoming talks in Islamabad. Pakistan is in acute need of Iran's friendship and understanding at this point of great insecurities and vulnerability.