IN Riyadh, on the second leg of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ‘facilitation’ trip to Iran and Saudi Arabia, it is not known how the rulers of the kingdom reacted to the Pakistani offer of bringing together the cross-Gulf rivals.
Mr Khan met the Saudi king and crown prince and reportedly ‘advised’ them to peacefully resolve regional issues.
The Foreign Office was quiet on the response from the Saudi royals, while as per a bland statement in the Saudi press, the two sides “discussed … the latest developments at the regional and international arenas”.
This is, of course, not much to go by, and only those who were privy to the huddle can better comment on how this country’s efforts to reduce tensions between two major Muslim states were perceived in Riyadh.
Earlier, Mr Khan received a comparatively more positive response to his offer in Tehran, with the Iranians stressing that a resolution of the Yemen issue could pave the way for better relations with Saudi Arabia.
Read: Welcome peace gesture by Pakistan, says President Rouhani alongside PM Imran
Regardless of the reactions, the prime minister’s efforts at mediation should be lauded, as a violent Saudi-Iran confrontation would have a destabilising effect on the entire region, and this country would certainly not be immune from its effects.
As it stands, Riyadh and Tehran are locked in a battle for influence in the Middle East, with the theatre stretching from the Levant to the Gulf. This rivalry dates back to 1979, when Iran exited the American camp and adopted Islamic revolutionary rhetoric as its guiding principle in statecraft. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, remained anchored to the West, and the relationship between Riyadh and Tehran has been rocky ever since, with the Arabs accusing Iran of ‘exporting’ its revolution, while the Iranians have criticised the pro-West Gulf monarchies for advancing American interests in the region.
Today, both sides have competing interests in Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, and if a shooting war were to break out, the front line would be stretched across these countries.
The recent Houthi strike targeting Saudi oil facilities — which Riyadh and the US have blamed on Iran — sent alarm bells ringing across the world, while an Iranian tanker was also attacked off Saudi Arabia’s western coast a few days ago by unknown assailants.
It would be correct to say that an intense game of nerves is being played in the Gulf, and one wrong move or miscalculation by either side could set the region on fire. Therefore, more efforts to bring Riyadh and Tehran together are needed.
Whatever their geopolitical differences, Saudi Arabia and Iran must work out a modus vivendi and assure each other of mutual security. Dragging outside powers — such as the US — into the equation will only complicate matters, ie regional security should be left to the regional states. Perhaps ending the brutal Yemen war could be a first step towards a more peaceful region.
IN an alarming report on the state of global child nutrition, Unicef has declared that at least one half of the world’s children under the age of five are victims of ‘hidden hunger’. This means that essential vitamins and minerals are missing from their diet. The report also highlights that at least one-third of the world’s under-five population is either undernourished or overweight — obesity rates are surging in the developing world — leading to lifelong health problems. Moreover, out of the total 700m children in the world, at least 149m are stunted: because of nutritional deficiencies, they are shorter than what is normal for their age, and their brain and bodily functions may also be affected. Another 50m suffer from wasting. The report collectively calls the three aspects of malnutrition a “triple burden — undernutrition, lack of critical micronutrients, obesity”.
The report is a wakeup call for Pakistan which is among the seven countries that make up two-thirds of the global undernourished population. On assuming office, Prime Minister Imran Khan correctly identified stunting as a major cause for concern. According to the 2018 National Nutrition Survey, four out of 10 children in Pakistan under the age of five are stunted. This is the third highest statistic in the world. Moreover, nearly 18pc suffer from wasting while almost 30pc are undernourished. Unfortunately, Pakistan also has the worst mortality rate in the world, while the maternal mortality rate remains one of the highest in the region. Though the prime minister, in his maiden speech, promised a renewed focus in these areas, the overall thrust of development is still towards ‘hard’ investment ie large infrastructure projects. The only positive step in this regard from the PTI-led government has been the Backyard Poultry Initiative under which 5m desi chicken were distributed to the public in the rural areas of Islamabad, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan at subsidised rates. The intention was to provide adequate animal protein to undernourished populations and alleviate poverty, but these goals will take far more time and effort to meet than the mere distribution of poultry. The prime minister should revisit his promise of improving maternal and child health, which is key to realising the other SDGs. Investment in early childhood development will result in concrete rewards as those who benefit will go on to become part of a productive workforce that will act as a powerhouse for development by boosting economic and social growth.
Casualty of JUI-F march
A DISCUSSION regarding the evolution — or rather the lack of it — of the National Games over the last few years has evoked several depressing memories for those who are committed to seeing them held regularly. The latest setback is the postponement of the 33rd edition of the Games in Peshawar by a couple of weeks. The justification for the disruption of the jinxed event this time has been provided by the JUI-F’s Maulana Fazlur Rehman as he grapples with the heavyweights in Pakistan’s power arena. The ‘Azadi March’ could cripple some, if not all, activity in his home province of KP. The National Games have been the planned protest’s first casualty. After what has happened in the past, nobody is confident that the event will be held even on the new scheduled date. This edition was to begin in Peshawar on Oct 26. It has now been pushed to Nov 9-14. The announcement came just when the National Games’ torch was on its way to the KP capital, which had ‘bravely’ accepted the responsibility of hosting the sporting gala once the original venue, Quetta, gave up after trying for many years. Balochistan could never come up with the infrastructure. There was always too much in the pipelines and too little on the ground.
The lack of funding, including the absence of resources needed to develop a worthy enough infrastructure, has been a huge factor in the repeated delaying of the Games. But there have been other issues that, in recent times, have spoiled matters, such as politics in the country’s sporting organisations and the latter’s clash with one another. It is very unfortunate that this often ugly internal friction has been allowed to exist for so long; it has had a terrible effect on a vital sporting tradition. There has to be a strong reassertion of the belief in how these events are essential to the life of the country and people. Only then can the National Games survive temporary hurdles created by politics within and outside Pakistan’s sporting organisations.