Is Imran Khan Partly Responsible For a Thaw in The GCC’s Qatar Row?

Yesterday, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan completed a two day visit to Qatar where he received assurances from Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani at Diwan-e-Amir, the Qatari Emir, that Doha will continue to assist Pakistan’s economic transformation across a verity of long term sustainable sectors. In the evening, Imran Khan addressed thousands of overseas Pakistanis at a packed Al Wakra stadium in Doha, thus affirming the PTI led government’s commitment not only to strengthening bilateral ties with Pakistan’s partners but with fostering a deeper sense of belonging among patriotic overseas Pakistanis.

But whilst Imran’s successful visit to Qatar was taking place, a story broke from the nearby UAE which stated that officials in Abu Dhabi would be open to co-hosting the 2022 football World Cup so long as the current row with Qatar is resolved sometime prior to the tournament. Even prior to the diplomatic crisis which emerged in 2017 and led to the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and others to sever relations with Doha, Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup has been plagued logistical issues. Whilst Qatar is a wealthy state, it has never before hosted such a large international sporting tournament and as such has had some difficulty in getting things off the ground in the run-up to 2022.

Qatar’s World Cup growing pains appear to have presented the UAE with an opportunity to test the waters in respect of a wider GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) reconciliation with Qatar, something that the wider international community would welcome. And yet while it remains to be seen whether the UAE’s statement regarding the World Cup could lead to some sort of reconciliation with Qatar, it also helps to realise that as the UAE’s closest ally Saudi Arabia is becoming involved in CPEC by financing the building of a new oil refinery in Gwadar and whilst Doha has also expressed interest in projects stemming from CPEC, it could well be that either overtly or tacitly, Imran Khan’s visit to Qatar has helped to push the GCC in the direction of extending a proverbial olive branch to Doha.

Things start becoming clearer when one realises that both Qatar and Qatar’s regional rivals share keen interests in long term sustainable investment in Pakistan. As such, it would make more sense for internal win-win GCC cooperation to dovetail into win-win GCC-Pakistan partnerships than for once friendly Arab nations to compete over projects in Pakistan that would benefit from coordination and multilateral cooperation. It also helps to remember that while Saudi Arabia is considered the de-facto leader of the GCC, when it comes to testing the diplomatic waters, Riyadh has become increasingly reliant on its UAE partner. Such was the case in respect of Syria when the UAE became the first GCC nation to re-open its embassy in Syria after shuttering it at the start of the ongoing conflict in Syria. It could be that in respect of Qatar, the UAE is testing the waters first due to similar overriding factors.

As Pakistan under the political leadership of Iman Khan had already been suggested as a possible mediator in the ongoing Yemen conflict, it is all the more conceivable that due to Pakistan’s good relations with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar, Pakistan could help to mediate in the ongoing feud in the Persian Gulf, a feud which is ostensibly far easier to resolve than the blood-soaked crisis in Yemen.

A possible result of such a mediation could be even more pan-GCC investment in Gwadar and other parts of Pakistan that are vital to the country’s long term economic development. The fact that the UAE decided to reach out to Qatar in what amounts to a friendly gesture at a time when Imran Khan was in Doha indicates at minimum, a general feeling among the Arab states of the region that the diplomatic strength of Naya Pakistan has the ability to bring feuding countries together in a spirit that forsakes competition and instead embraces the win-win mentality.

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