Five week ago, devastating attacks on Saudi oil facilities had sent a shockwave across markets. The attacks risked escalating the low-intensity Saudi-Iran conflict and plunging the region into chaos. The episode evoked much fright here at home, for Pakistan's economy is extremely sensitive to a spike in global oil prices. It can also least afford to take sides in a heavyweight conflict that has sectarian origins.
Thankfully, the immediate slump in Saudi oil output had a short-lived impact on crude prices. It also helped that slowdown in global demand - thanks mainly to the US-China trade tensions - checked the spike. Perhaps the biggest respite is that the two rivals have, in the aftermath, shown openness towards a dialogue. The Saudis and the Iranians have surprised the world through this belated bout of pragmatism.
Pakistan should heave a sigh of relief. What is more, Pakistan, which has good neighborly relations with Iran on top of having deep security and economic ties with Saudi Arabia, has managed to play a much-needed role of a friendly interlocutor in a high-stakes situation. Other countries like Iraq have also played their role, reflecting a broader consensus to avoid war.
While the Americans have used the crisis to deploy more troops to the Kingdom and sell more arms, it seems that even the US cannot afford war in one of the busiest liquid-cargo shipping lanes in the world. Perhaps it was Trump's reluctance to directly take on Iran - accompanied with his recent turning on allies (Ukrainians and the Kurds, for starters) - that has forced the Saudis to rethink their options.
For their part, the Iranians also need to find a way back into international arena as a responsible regional power. It helps Tehran that there is a growing influence of its chief ally, Russia, in the Middle East, even as American firepower wanes in regional hotspots. Trump may call his Syrian withdrawal "strategic brilliance," but it is Russia that is having a red-carpet welcome from Ankara all the way down to Riyadh. Russia's Putin now has more leverage to settle regional scores than a reluctant Trump's America.
Economic prosperity needs peace, and the powers on both sides of the Persian Gulf may be beginning to realize that. It is time for the Middle East to head towards a new rebalancing, after tasting the perils of proxy wars in Yemen and Syria and lately coming so close to the brink of war. If that happens, there will likely be a healthy pressure on South Asian rivals to also mend fences and focus on development.