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Pakistan-Saudi Arabia Relations: ‘Strategic Brotherhood’ Touching New Heights – OpEd

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Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are time-tested friends, strategic partners and brothers. Pakistan’s relationship with Saudi Arabia cannot be compared with any other country. Prime Minister Imran Khan and Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman are taking these relations to new heights. The recent visit of PM Imran Khan on the special invitation of Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Prince Muhammad Bin Salman underscored the leadership role of the two counties in Muslim Ummah. The joint statement issued after the meeting of the two leaders clearly shows that both the countries are not limiting their relationship to mutual benefits and bilateral affairs. Rather they are concerned about the problems of the entire Muslim Ummah. The joint statement mentioned the Palestinian issue, Syrian civil war, Yemen and Houthi rebellion, Kashmir, Afghanistan and all other issues Muslim Ummah is facing. Precisely, clauses from 6 to 11 of the joint statement are all about burning issues of Muslim Ummah. 

They called for joint efforts by all Muslim countries against terrorism and extremism and to strive together to achieve international peace and security. The two sides reaffirmed their full support for all the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, especially, their right to self-determination and establishment of their independent state with pre-1967 borders and East Jerusalem as its capital, in accordance with the Arab Peace Initiative and relevant UN resolutions. They also expressed their support for political solutions in Syria and Libya, as well as the efforts of the United Nations and its envoys in this regard.

Pakistan lauded the role of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the resolution of the crisis in Yemen. Both the leaders condemned attacks on Saudi Arabia by Houthi terrorists and other terror groups and urged to resolve the crisis according to Gulf Initiative and UN Security Council resolutions. Pakistan’s role in Afghan Peace Process was also praised by Crown Prince and the two leaders agreed to continue mutual consultations on the Afghan peace process. 

Both the brotherly states almost always support each other on multilateral fora and they agreed to continue coordination and cooperation in future as well. Saudi Arabia can play a role in removing Pakistan from the FATF list especially when Pakistan has done unprecedented progress against terror financing and money laundering. 

As peace and stability in South Asia are linked with peace between India and Pakistan, no one can overlook the importance of the Kashmir dispute. Both the leaders emphasized the importance of dialogue between Pakistan and India to resolve the outstanding issues between the two countries, especially the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, to ensure peace and stability in the region. 

Pakistan is at the juncture of South Asia and Central Asia as well as China. While Saudi Arabia is the pivot of the Middle East as well as it is a central sacred place for more than one and half billion Muslims across the globe. Pakistan, the only Muslim nuclear and missile power and largest Muslim military while Saudi Arabia, custodian of the two Harmain, an economic giant, leader of OPEC and many economic forums are undoubtedly two major leaders of Muslim Ummah. Blending their efforts together, they can lead Muslim Ummah towards a destiny where peace, security, stability and prosperity will prevail over extremism, terrorism, sectarianism, poverty, chaos and anarchy. 

Recent rapprochement by Saudi Arabia towards Iran and resolving its issues with Qatar will pave way for a United Muslim Ummah. Let us hope that Iran reciprocates the peace overture by Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman. Armed proxies in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria are the main bone of contention. Normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran may help the region get rid of these militant proxies however it is easier said than done. Pakistan can play a vital role in bringing the two rival states closer to sort out differences and bitterness. Ultimately, Pakistan will be one of the biggest beneficiaries of peace between Saudi Arabia and Iran as our social fabric is marred with sectarian conflict emanating from rivalry between Arabia and Persia.  

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent visit was more focused on economic cooperation. The two sides discussed ways to strengthen and enhance economic and trade relations by exploring areas of investment and opportunities available in light of the Kingdom’s 2030 vision and Pakistan’s development priorities emanating from a shift from geopolitics to geo-economics. The discussions also focused on increasing cooperation in other fields, including energy, science, technology, agriculture and culture. In this regard, an agreement was also signed to establish Saudi-Pakistan Supreme Coordination Council (SPSCC). Framework MoU was also signed between Saudi Fund for Development (SFD) and Pakistan for financing projects in Energy, Hydropower Generation, Infrastructure, Transport & Communication and Water Resource Development. During his visit to Pakistan in 2019, Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman had pledged an investment of US$ 20 billion in Pakistan including the Aramco Oil Refinery project in Gawadar. A master plan for Pakistan’s largest oil city, including a $10 billion Aramco oil refinery project, is underway and expected to be ready before the end of the year according to Pakistani officials. 

Pakistan-Saudi relations in the field of defence and security seems to be working at an optimum level. The joint statement between the two leaders expressed ‘satisfaction at existing cooperation in bilateral military and security relations, and agreed to further augment collaboration and cooperation to achieve mutually agreed goals.’ Threats to Saudi Arabia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are taken very seriously by Pakistan and it has always shown its firm commitment to defend Saudi Arabia against such threats. Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa had reached days before Prime Minister Imran Khan and held meaningful talks with Saudi Leadership. In his meeting with Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman and Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid Bin Salman General Qamar Javed Bajwa said that Pakistan is resolute in its commitment to safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of KSA and defence of the Two Holy Mosques. 

It will be unjust if one does not acknowledge the efforts of the Saudi Ambassador in Pakistan Nawaf Bin Said Al-Malki who has been serving in the position since September 2017. Before he was appointed Ambassador he was serving as Defense Attaché of the Kingdom to Pakistan since 2014. Having vast experience and knowledge about the political, security and social dynamics of Pakistan and its core issues he is known as a pro-active diplomat. It is a matter of fact that during his tenure Saudi outreach in Pakistan has considerably improved.  Meanwhile, Air Vice Marshal Awad Al Zahrani the Defense Attaché of Saudi Arabia in Pakistan has been playing an important role in augmenting already strong and unprecedented military ties between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Lt. General Bilal Akbar, Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia was appointed at the position in January 2021 and he played a vital role in bringing the relations back to a normal level after some deterioration in 2020. 

Pakistan’s military relations and strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia is perhaps the main reason that currently Saudi Ambassador to Pakistan and Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia both are from military backgrounds. 

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent visit to the Kingdom is expected to bring more colours to the already stronger and colourful relations especially in the sphere of economics and environment protection. A new chapter is being written in the history and hopes are for the best for the people of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the rest of Muslim Ummah.

*The writer is Managing Director at an Islamabad-based think tank Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies. He can be reached at [email protected] 

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