Reportedly, A wide-spread air base in western Iraq that hosted President Donald Trump during his first official visit to a combat zone as commander in chief was one of two military installations where US troops are stationed that came under ballistic missile attack by Iran today, early Wednesday. The attacks came hours after US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the US should expect retaliation over the US killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike in Iraq on Friday. This caused a global uproar which has led to further deterioration of already tensed relations between Iran and the US after killing of Qasim Soleimani by the US. But how will US – Iran Conflict Affect Pakistan?
The killing of Qasim Soleimani puts Pakistan, which is majority Sunni Muslim but has a large Shi’ite minority and is keen to avoid any regional upheaval, in a sensitive position. An ally of Saudi Arabia, Tehran’s arch regional enemy, Pakistan has a complex bittersweet relationship with Iran, with which it shares a long border of 800 km.
Thousands of Shi’ite protesters marched in several Pakistani cities on Sunday to show solidarity with Iran. Some clashed with police in the southern city of Karachi when they attempted to march on the U.S. consulate.
Qureshi said he feared Soleimani’s death could provoke an upsurge in sectarian tensions, including in Afghanistan.
Pakistan is already grappling with an intense economic crisis and facing heightened tensions with neighboring India. The long land frontier with Iran is rife with cross-border militant activity.
Pakistan has also long had a tense relationship with the United States over the war in neighboring countries like Afghanistan, where U.S. officials have frequently and dominantly accused it of supporting the Taliban, a charge Pakistan denied and always does.
But it desperately needs U.S. support, both in coping its severe balance of payments problems and in dealing with its nuclear armed neighbor India after the two came close to war last year.
Pakistan enjoys aid and buys much of its oil from Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia, which is locked in a power struggle of unannounced magnitude with Shi’ite Iran across a region where they back opposing sides in conflicts ranging from Syria to Yemen.
The killing has spurred fears of a major regional holocaust. On Monday hundreds of thousands of Iranians flooded Tehran’s streets for Soleimani’s funeral and his daughter said his death would bring a “dark day” for the United States.
“The Middle East was and is volatile and this region cannot afford another war. We are part of this region and when a fire erupts there, Pakistan cannot escape,” said Qureshi.