Pak-Saudi Relations: Are they in crisis?

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Waheed Hussain

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi annoyed the Saudi Royal family. Some diplomatic experts and political commentators believe that he should not have openly criticized the Saudi government and OIC on Kashmir issue. There are those who supported the Shah of Multan saying that Pakistani government and public are frustrated, the way Muslim World as a whole and Saudi Arabia in particular ignored the Kashmir situation where the innocent population is butchered by the Indian forces on the daily basis.

We must realize and understand that we are living in the age of nation states. The countries have their demarcated territories enjoying sovereignty and pursuing national interests. The concept of Muslim Ummah is absolutely irrelevant to the present day challenges. Organizations like OIC and Arab League for that matter are completely ineffective, non-productive and useless forums, because these institutions failed to resolve Muslim states conflicts and issues.

The entire world is watching that innocent Kashmiris are being killed, Palestinians are struggling against the Zionist expansionism, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan are facing internal and external instability. Where are OIC and Arab League? Iran-Saudi proxy wars in the Middle Eastespecially in Yemen have divided the Muslim countries including international forums such as OIC and Arab League.

In the recent weeks there were news that UAE was establishing close contacts with the Israeli government. This development must have been materialized after successful diplomacy carried out by the United States and Saudi Arabia. Pakistan has already rejected any idea of accepting the Israel as an independent state until Palestinians get their sovereign state with pre 1967 position.

With this background of the Muslim World what kind of relations we will have with Saudi Arabia. No doubt, both states had been enjoying good brotherly relations for many decades.

Saudi Arabia had always extended economic and financial support to Pakistan in the difficult times. Millions of Pakistani workers serve in Saudi Arabia sending billions of dollars as remittances to Pakistan, which addsup to our foreign reserves.

When PTI formed government in 2018 the Saudis gave 3 billion dollars cash and 3.2 billion dollars oil facility on the deferred payments. In fact it was a big financial support to the present government as it was facing serious financial crisis.

The relations are not restricted to the government level only, however, people of Pakistan have emotional attachment with Makkah and Madina Sharif. This association is beyond any financial or economic benefit.

In the last two years both Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chief Of Army Staff General Qamar Javeed Bajwa had visited Saudi Arabia many times. Recently, after Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s statement the COAS along with ISI head went to Saudi Arabia to remove any misunderstanding developed after FM statement.  Are the relations normal we can’t say at this point of time?

Last Year Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman visited Islamabad and signed many MOUs for cooperation and investment between the two friends.

The Crown Price promised to invest 10 billion dollars in different fields in Pakistan.

Things were moving very smooth till August/September 2019. In August 2019 the Indian PM Modi amended the constitution and declared disputed Kashmir Valley as part of Indian Union by withdrawing the special status of Indian Occupied Kashmir.

The Saudis did not openly criticize the Indian government action. It also did not honor Pakistani government requests for calling Foreign Ministers level summit of Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).

In September 2019, the PM Imran Khan visited New York to attend UN General Assembly Annual Session. During his stay he held meetings with the Turkish, Malaysian and Iranian leadership regardingissues being faced by the Muslims World.

It was decided that the leadership of Muslim countries would meet in Kuala Lumpur in December 2019 to discuss the challenges and launch a unanimous strategy.

The Saudi government thought that the proposed gathering of various Muslim states might be a threat to OIC and Saudi interests. As a consequence the Saudi leadership invited the Pakistani Prime Ministerto Saudi Arabia and expressed their displeasure on this summit.

Saudis told Imran Khan that if he or any Pakistani official attended the summit it would have a bad impact on the bilateral relations between the two countries. Naturally PM Imran had to withdraw from the meeting.

After the summit Turkish President TayyabErdogon in one of his interviews disclosed that the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan could not attend the Kuala Lumpur meeting as he was threatened by the Saudi leadership of serious consequences.

Later on we witnessed that PM IK met with both Turkish and Malaysian leadership and promised to attend the next summit, which might be held this year. This statement of Imran Khan might have disturbed the Royal House.

So there is discomfort in the Royal family in Riyadh regarding new initiatives being taken by the Turkish and Iranian leadership with reference to Muslim world. In this situation Pakistan becomes a sandwich between the two blocks one led by Iran-Turkey and other by Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan policy towards Muslim countries is very clear that it wants to have friendly relations with all states; however, Saudis challenge our neutrality because they pay us dollars.

As long as our economic and financial situation is bad we will not be able to follow an independent foreign policy. If we want to pursue independent foreign and domestic policies, we would require to get rid of foreign loans and financial support from friends and International Financial Institutions. As it is well said that there is no free lunch.

We will be black mailed by the countries and institutions as long as we are spending their dollars.

I am sure the leadership of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will find out solution to the present crisis if there are any?

The interest of the two nations is well connected with each other.  However, for Pakistan people of Jammu and Kashmir are very important and the Saudi leadership has to realize this fact beyond its financial benefits from India.