Developments in Pakistan’s Relations with Saudi Arabia

2020/09/07 | Note, political, top news

Strategic Council Online - The recent failed visit of Pakistani army generals to Riyadh, followed by the visit of Imran Khan, seems to be more the result of the frown of the Riyadh rulers than a sign of Pakistani initiative. Mashallah Shakeri - Former Iranian ambassador to Pakistan and expert on international affairs

In the days these lines were being penned, Pakistani media reported that Imran Khan might visit Saudi Arabia very soon. Earlier, Pakistani Army Commander General Qamar Javed Bajwa accompanied by the top director of the Pakistani Intelligence Service (ISI) returned from a trip to Saudi Arabia. Evidence shows that the Prime Minister’s visit was due to the failure of the military team’s visit.

In Pakistan, it is customary for the statesmen to come to the scene at the discretion of the military, when they are considered part of the solution. This division of labor has been established and well-received.

A year ago, on these days, the state of Jammu and Kashmir was stripped of its special status following the repeal of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution by parliament. Jammu and Kashmir in the years after the independence of India and Pakistan were disputed between the two countries but remained under Indian rule and enjoyed a different and privileged position compared to other Indian states. The repeal of Article 370 led to protests inside Kashmir as well as in Pakistan as a claimant to the rights of the people of Kashmir. Over the past year, Pakistan’s efforts to raise the issue of Kashmir at the UN and regional level have been unsuccessful. Pakistan has previously sought to arouse the sympathy of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member states towards Kashmir.

Pakistan’s relative failure to achieve this goal is due to India’s effective actions in recent years. India, which has been seeking membership since the founding of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation, has failed to do so due to strong opposition from Pakistan. India’s reason for joining the OIC was its population of 200 million Muslims. The Indian authorities cited the position of the Russian and Thai observers in the Organization. However, the Muslim population in these two countries is much smaller than in India.

The Indians were finally able to realize the presence of the then Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj (deceased) as an honorary guest at the 46th Meeting of OIC Foreign Ministers hosted by the UAE in March 2019. The UAE’s action was strongly protested by the Pakistani delegate in the courtroom. The Pakistani foreign minister did not attend the meeting in protest to India’s invitation.

Indians in the changing international climate have typically succeeded in getting their desired fish out of water. Another point is that in the years when the Hindu extremist BJP government led by Narindra Modi came to power, India’s relations with the Persian Gulf Arab states, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have improved, and other Islamic countries have more or less followed suit. In recent years, India has enacted or repealed laws that have fundamentally harmed the country’s Muslim community. The ruling BJP government is now working to restore the Islamic names of Indian cities and towns in order to erase the historical past of Muslim rule on the subcontinent. The socio-economic and cultural effects of these behaviors will gradually manifest themselves.

New positions taken in the region, including the UAE’s decision to normalize political relations with the Zionist regime and the welcome or silence of some other Islamic states in this regard, have been supported by the Indian government. On the one hand, India has broad interests in developing its relations with Arab countries, and on the other hand, it fully enjoys friendly relations with the Zionist regime. Thus, with the normalization of relations between a number of other Islamic countries and the Israeli regime, India puts aside its past reservation and is not even worried about the protests of its Muslim community and ignores Pakistan’s sensitivities towards its anti-Islamic policies.

Pakistan expected the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, as the largest international organization after the United Nations and under the influence and management of Saudi Arabia, to pay more serious attention to the Kashmir issue. But not only did Pakistan’s dreams not come true, there were signs of disregard for the Indian government’s treatment of Muslims, especially in Kashmir. Silence or a slight expression of dissatisfaction is not limited to this organization, but widespread differences among Islamic states are another reason that gives the Indian government immunity. If we add to this equation the economic or political dependence of some other Islamic countries to deepen and develop their relations with India, the balance will change completely in India’s favor.

Pakistan’s internal problems, however, have had an impact on reducing the influence of Pakistan at the regional level and at the level of the OIC. Despite the fact that the Pakistani government has always been requested by its neighbors such as India, Afghanistan and Iran to curb terrorism from the source of that land, it has not achieved significant success. Pakistan’s neighbors are typically concerned about terrorists taking refuge in that country. On the other hand, Pakistan’s military and civilian governments in the past have failed to take much of the burden off Pakistan’s weak economy. Pakistan is increasingly feeling the pressure of foreign borrowing, and is therefore reaching out to wealthy Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

In October 2018, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan paid a visit to Saudi Arabia to borrow more money. The trip that took place to attend a conference called “Davos Sahara” was apparently against his will. Earlier in 2014, Imran Khan had criticized former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif when he was not in power, saying, “It is a shame to go to the United States and Saudi Arabia for help.” But when he came to power and stood at the top of the political system he had to give up his previous slogans or standards and reach out to Saudi Arabia upon the advice of the military. In response, Saudi Arabia pledged $3 billion to invest in a refinery in the Pakistani port of Gwadar. This investment has not yet been made. In addition, Saudi Arabia lent $3 billion in cash to Pakistan to increase Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves from $9 billion to $12 billion. Imran Khan’s political opponents called his new approach inconsistent with his election slogans and reminded him that “beggars cannot be choosers.” In this way, Pakistan was forced not to take much of an angle with Saudi Arabia in its behavior and speech.

At the same time, the issue of Kashmir is an identity issue for Pakistan and it cannot be easily ignored. The wait of the Pakistani foreign policy apparatus for a move by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to put the issue of Kashmir on the agenda was in vain. Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi recently criticized the OIC’s indifferent behavior, which was not to the liking of the Saudis. Riyadh immediately demanded the return of $ 3billion in deposits to the Pakistani treasury. It is clear that Pakistan does not have a winning tool in its own economic context and the political situation in the region.

The recent failed visit of Pakistani army generals to Riyadh, followed by Imran Khan’s visit, seems to be more the result of the anger of the Riyadh rulers than a sign of Pakistani initiative.

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