The relationship between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia is an old and strategic one; relations between the two countries became much closer especially from the time of Zia-ul-Haq onwards, and notably during the reign of Nawaz Sharif, which was relatively long, and at the time of Parviz Musharraf. It is even said that Pakistan has been involved and is active in the Saudi nuclear case and has its forces in that country. Pakistan has also sent a large number of workforce to the Persian Gulf region, especially to Saudi Arabia. This workforce transfers about 8 billion dollars annually from the Persian Gulf region to Pakistan which plays a very effective role in the lives of the people of that country. Saudi Arabia has also invested in various sectors in Pakistan, including agriculture.
But since Nawaz Sharif stepped down and Imran Khan took office, we have seen the Pakistani Prime Minister is trying to pursue a policy to expand Islamabad’s relations with all countries in the region. Simultaneously, he has been interested in maintaining strong ties between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and to this end he made his first visit to Riyadh.
At this juncture two expectations were developed; on the one hand, Saudi Arabia was not interested in seeing Imran Khan to get close to Iran. In fact, the incumbent Prime Minister of Pakistan, unlike Nawaz Sharif, has adopted an independent and freedom-loving spirit. Even when he planned to visit Saudi Arabia, he said Islamabad intended to develop relations with Tehran, which did not and will not please Riyadh.
Pakistan, on the other hand, expected Saudi Arabia to support the Kashmir issue due to its influence in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, but Saudi Arabia was reluctant to do so, as the Persian Gulf states have very good relations with India and many Indian workforce are working in those countries; therefore, this issue caused annoyance and the Pakistani Foreign Minister complained to Saudi Arabia that if Riyadh decided to continue such an attitude, it will have a negative impact on the friendship and relations between the two countries. This issue deprived the Pakistani defense minister of meeting with Bin Salman during his visit to Saudi Arabia.
Therefore, with regard to these annoyances, Saudi Arabia now claims that Pakistan should repay the loan given to it by Riyadh. This means that relations between the two countries are strained and that there is less understanding between Riyadh and Islamabad than before.
Under these circumstances, Imran Khan took the middle ground and tried to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia with an aim of resolving the problem in their relations; because if the relationship between Tehran and Riyadh improves, naturally the problem of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan will be solved as well.
But despite all such efforts, we still see that the relations between Riyadh and Islamabad are not the same as before, and Imran Khan is not willing to listen to Saudi Arabia, like Nawaz Sharif, to implement Saudi policies. At present, although the relations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey are not good at all, the Prime Minister of Pakistan is considered a close friend of Ankara and even intends to further develop relations with Turkey. In the case of Iran, Imran Khan also follows the same policy.
In fact, Saudi Arabia intends to implement the same plan it had with Qatar with Pakistan as well and have this country to implement the policies of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi; but Imran Khan is unlikely to succumb to such pressures.
Of course, this strain in relations should not be assessed in the direction that Pakistan is interested in downgrading its relations with Saudi Arabia; because Islamabad, while being interested in maintaining its relations with Riyadh, also seeks independence and intends to have a growing and good relationship with Iran and Turkey. At present, an atmosphere has emerged for Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan to work closely with each other in the light of Qatar’s peace talks in relation to Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Pakistan has also strategic relations with China and Iran is expected to implement a 25-year comprehensive cooperation agreement with Beijing in the near future, and such relations will be complementary to each other. Thus the situation in the region and the world is changing; but Riyadh is reluctant to accept such changes and intends to traditionally hold control over Pakistan. In the meantime, the situation has changed in Pakistan and the country is gradually leaving the Western clique and entering into the Chinese camp.
Finally, if Iran and Pakistan manage to develop their relationship to such an extent that at least a significant portion of the income Pakistan obtains from Saudi Arabia can be obtained from Iran, and Iran reciprocally could take advantage of Pakistan’s 210 million population for its exports and economic cooperation, no doubt Islamabad could more easily avoid the pressures of Riyadh and pursue its independent relations with other countries.