Categorized | South Asian Politics

Pakistan moves closer to the Arab World

Posted on 27 February 2014 by admin

Dr. Hasan Askari


        Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have traditionally maintained very friendly relations. This relationship has been beneficial to both. Saudi Arabia has provided financial help to Pakistan in the form of aid, loans, investment, supply of oil on favorable terms and humanitarian assistance in case of major disasters like floods and earthquake.  It has also accommodated Pakistani labor and professionals in major sectors of Saudi economy. Pakistan has provided expertise in Saudi Arabia’s development work, contributed to building setting up state and financial institutions and deployment of Pakistani troops in Saudi Arabia on training assignments and regular security duties. In the mid-sixties and the seventies a large number of Saudi male and female students used to come to Pakistan for medical, engineering and scientific fields.  Later institutions in these educational fields were set up in Saudi Arabia.

     Saudi Arabia has helped managing political conflicts in Pakistan. In March-July1977 when the opposition (Pakistan National Alliance) launched street agitation against the government led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Saudi Ambassador in Islamabad attempted to defuse the conflict. He held meetings with the leaders of the two sides. This effort did not resolve the problem.

 Saudis helped the military regime of General Zia-u-Haq to Islamize Pakistan on conservative lines.

 When in 2000 a special court convicted Nawaz Sharif and others for hijacking the aircraft that brought the Army Chief General Pervez Musharraf from Colombo, Sri Lanka, on October 12, 1999, the Saudi government intervened to convince the military government of General Musharraf to let Nawaz Sharif and his family go to Saudi Arabia in return for a commitment that he would not take part in active politics for ten years. Nawaz Sharif and his family, including Shahbaz Sharif, left for Saudi Arabia in December 2000. His return to Pakistan in November 2007 was also facilitated by Saudi Arabia.

   Saudi Arabia extended financial support to General Zia-u-l-Haq’s military government in the decade of the 1980s for building up Afghan-Islamic resistance in Pakistan with the cooperation of the United States to fight Soviet troops in Afghanistan.  This exercise laid the foundation of Islamic militancy that haunted Pakistan in the later years. Even today’s extremism and terrorism in Pakistan can be traced back to this period.

    Saudi Arabia quietly provides financial support to religious schools and religious leaders that share Saudi Wahabbi Islamic traditions. In Pakistan Wahabbi, Deobandi and Ahle-Hadees madrassas and religious leaders have benefited from this Saudi policy. Iran and other Arab states also compete with Saudi Arabia to cultivate support among the relevant religious circles.  These policies of Saudi Arabia and some other Middle Eastern states increased religious orthodoxy, militancy and sectarianism in Pakistan

     Within a couple of months after the assumption of power by Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan in 2013, activity on the diplomatic front increased between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Several important visits took place between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan during the last two months:  Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal (January 6-7), Governor of Tabuk Prince Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz visited Dalbandeen, Balochistan on a private visit (January 10 onwards), Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Prince Salman bin Sultlan (January 20-22), Pakistan’s Army Chief General Raheel Sharif on a visit to Saudi Arabia (February 4-7),  and Chairman of Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz (February 7).

      The most significant visit was that of Crown Prince Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Salman bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud with a large delegation (February 15-17). This visit made a comprehensive review of bilateral relations between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The Saudi Crown Prince showed special interest in expanding the existing bilateral relations in economic, security and other sectors of mutual interest.

    The joint statement expressed Saudi support for peaceful resolution of the Kashmir problem in accordance with the United Nations resolutions. Saudi Arabia also appreciated the efforts to improve India-Pakistan relations. The two sides expressed identity of views on the Palestinian problem. They agreed to expand cooperation in investment, trade, energy, infrastructure development, and agriculture. The also agreed for cooperation for countering terrorism and control drug trafficking.

    Saudi Arabia offered a credit facility of U.S. dollars 125 million to Pakistan for purchasing Urea fertilizer from Saudi Arabia. It also agreed to provide U.S. dollar 58 million for the development of Golden Gol Hydropower project in Chitral.

    The most significant development was Pakistan’s decision to support Saudi Arabia’s demand for setting up a transitory administration with full executive authority in Syria replacing Bashar-al-Asad’s government.

 In the past Pakistan avoided taking a categorical position on the exit of Bashar-al-Asad and criticized foreign intervention in Syria. It was more or less non-partisan on internal political changes in Syria. Pakistan shifted its policy to the satisfaction of Saudi Arabia.

    The two sides are expected to cooperate in the security field. The non-official Pakistani sources claimed that Saudi Arabia had sought Pakistani troops for internal security in Saudi Arabia. Pakistan is willing to do.

    Pakistan’s security relations with Saudi Arabia go back to the mid-1960s, the period of rule by Field Marshal Ayub Khan in Pakistan.  Pakistan troops were based in Saudi Arabia in the late 1960s and the 1970s on training and active security assignments. However, Pakistan made it clear then that Pakistani troops would not undertake any assignment beyond the Saudi borders.  It seems that if Pakistan troops again go to Saudi Arabia, these will not get involved in any conflict in the Arab world. Pakistani troops are expected to perform security duties inside Saudi Arabia and these will not get involved with Syria’s internal strife directly or indirectly.

   Once again, Pakistan is getting closer to conservative Arab kingdoms like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait. It is already close to the UAE and Bahrain. These countries can provide financial support.

Pakistan is working on a deal with Qatar for gas supply.

From Saudi Arabia it would try to get oil on deferred payment basis and more Saud investment.

Pakistan will continue to keep its relations with Iran as normal but the prospects for construction of Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline are reduced to minimum because Pakistan does not have money to construct pipeline in Pakistani area.

 No major international group is willing to fund this project because the U.S. is opposed to it. Pakistan is now turning towards conservative but rich Arab countries for coping with its internal economic problems.

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