Pakistan Defence Minister Khawaja Asif
Pakistan Defence Minister Khawaja AsifReuters

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has ordered the cancellation of Defence minister Khawaja Asif's two-day visit to Iran, said reports.

The Defence Minister was scheduled to visit Tehran on 18-19 January to improve defence ties between the two neighbouring countries.

Though the defence ministry did not reveal the reason behind the cancellation of Asif's planned trip, an official, who chose to remain anonymous, said the development was apparently due to escalating tensions between the Shia-ruled Iran and the Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, reported PTI.

Pakistan, also a Sunni-majority country, is a key ally of Saudi Arabia and has close relations with the kingdom. The move can be seen as Pakistan's efforts to make up for not joining the Saudi-led alliance in striking the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Last week, the Saudi foreign and defence ministers visited Islamabad in a bid to seek Pakistan's support over the Sunni-ruled kingdom's tensions with Tehran. Riyadh is also said to have pressurised its South Asian ally to join the 34-nation coalition to fight terrorism, said reports.

Though Pakistan assured of its support to Saudi Arabia in case of territorial instability, it was reluctant to contribute troops to the coalition as the country deploys troops overseas only for UN peacekeeping missions.

Pakistan was also reluctant to back the Sunni kingdom on its row with Iran, as it is a neighbouring country with which Islamabad maintains close relations.