Middle East

Middle East

Pakistan also maintains close relations with the Islamic countries of the Middle East. These ties are important for religious, strategic, political, and economic reasons. In 1955 Pakistan, together with Iran, Iraq, and Turkey, joined the Baghdad Pact, a security arrangement later called the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) after Iraq's withdrawal. CENTO was buttressed in 1964 by a regional arrangement among Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey called the Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD), and economic cooperation activities overshadowed the security aspects of the countries' relations. CENTO was disbanded in 1979 with the overthrow of Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi's government in Iran, and the RCD dissolved. The RCD was effectively revived in 1984 as the ECO.

Pakistan's foreign policy fostered stronger ties with the Middle East through expanded trade. In addition, Pakistani workers employed in the Persian Gulf states, Libya, and Iran provided remittances to Pakistan that were a major source of foreign-exchange earnings. The loss of remittances caused by the 1991 Persian Gulf War was a serious concern to Pakistan. During the war, Pakistani units were sent to Saudi Arabia as components of the multinational forces. Pakistan has also contributed to the defense systems of several Arab states, supplying both officers and men. Pakistan has strengthened its Islamic ties by playing a leading role in the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and has also supported the Palestinian cause, withholding recognition of Israel.

Pakistan's ties with Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states were strained during the 1990-91 crisis in the gulf. Although a member of the United States-led international coalition, Pakistan played only a limited role, sending a force of 11,000 troops tasked with "protecting" religious sites in Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, during the war a vocal segment of public opinion in Pakistan supported ousting the Kuwaiti monarch and approved of Saddam Husayn's defiance of the United States-led coalition. The then chief of the army staff, General Mirza Aslam Beg, also expressed support for Iraq, resulting in further embarrassment for Pakistan's government. Following the Persian Gulf War, Pakistan undertook diplomatic efforts to recover its position in the region. In addition, many Pakistani expatriate workers returned to their jobs, and cooperative defense training activities continued. As a result, Pakistan largely restored its position as an influential player in the region.

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