The gap between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia over Jammu and Kashmir is in sight. A delegation led by the head of the Pakistani army, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, visited Saudi Arabia, but was refused a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi today met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to gain his support.
Saudi Arabia-Pakistan Ties
Saudi Arabia-Pakistan relations were most important during the 1971 India-Pakistan War. According to information at the time, Saudi Arabia had denounced India’s action as “treacherous and contrary to all international covenants and human values” and had found no justification for India’s aggression except “India’s desire to dismember Pakistan and tarnish its Islamic belief.”
- Saudi Arabia has also reportedly transferred weapons and equipment, including the loan of some 75 planes to Pakistan.
- After the war, Saudi Arabia has consistently supported the call for the return of Pakistani prisoners of war and for the Dhaka (Dhaka) trial to be dropped against 195 of them.
- After the war, Saudi Arabia provided loans to Pakistan which enabled it to purchase weapons worth around $ 1 million in 1977, including American F-16s and Harpoon missiles.
- Oil and Saudi dollars held steady the Pakistani economy is on its feet after the sanctions following the nuclear tests.
- For the past two decades, Saudi Arabia has supplied Pakistan with deferred oil whenever it encountered economic hardship.
- Saudi funding for madrasas also led to their proliferation, which then led to religious extremism.
- In 1990, Pakistan sent its ground forces to defend Saudi Arabia against Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.
Alignment with Kashmir
Alignment with Kashmir within the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has crystallized since 1990, when the insurgency began in Jammu and Kashmir. While the OIC has issued statements over the past three decades, this has become a minor ritual for India.
- Last year, after India repealed Article 370 in Kashmir, Pakistan pressured the OIC to condemn India’s decision.
- To Pakistan’s surprise, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates issued nuanced statements rather than harsh criticisms of New Delhi.
- Over the past year, Pakistan has attempted to stir up sentiment among Islamic countries, but only a handful, Turkey and Malaysia, have publicly criticized India.
The Saudi Perspective
Saudi Arabia’s change of stance has been a gradual process under Crown Prince MBS. As he seeks to diversify from his heavily oil-dependent economy, he sees India as a valuable partner in the region.
- New Delhi, for its part, has been wooing the Arab world for six years. From Saudi Arabia to the United Arab Emirates, he worked diplomatic levers through high-level visits and suspended investment and business opportunities.
- MBS, who is looking to invest in India, has taken a realistic view, with UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. Saudi Arabia is India’s fourth largest trading partner (after China, the United States and Japan) and a major source of energy; India imports around 18% of its crude oil needs from the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia is also a major source of LPG for India.
- And, with Iran’s oil imports from India being cut off due to the threat of US sanctions, Saudi Arabia is also key in this regard.
Tension between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan
The tension between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan has been brewing for some time. In 2015, the Pakistani parliament decided not to support the Saudi military effort to restore an internationally recognized government in Yemen.
- Later, then Pakistani army chief General Raheel Sharif led the Saudi Arabia-led Islamic Counterterrorism Military Alliance, which includes 41 Muslim countries.
- In February 2019, after the terrorist attack on Pulwama, it was Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that did everything they could to free Wing Commander Abhinandan, in addition to the United States.
- The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia visited Pakistan and India at the time and made it clear that he appreciates economic opportunities.
- It did not address the issue of Kashmir in India or the issue of terrorism in Pakistan. One year after the repeal of Section 370, Qureshi howled at the cat.
- His accusation that Saudi Arabia has not championed the Kashmir cause was an indication from Islamabad – and Rawalpindi’s frustration – that the OIC did not play a leading role in supporting Pakistan against India.
- This enraged Saudi Arabia, which in November 2018 announced a $ 6.2 billion loan to Pakistan. The package included $ 3 billion in loans and an oil line of credit in the amount of $ 3.2 billion.
- Riyadh demanded repayment of the $ 3 billion loan and refused to sell oil to Islamabad on deferred payment. Pakistan immediately returned $ 1 billion, flaunting the split.
- But, in the current economic situation, Pakistan cannot pay the next installment. General Bajwa went to Riyadh for a tinkering exercise, but MBS refused to meet him.
- What also angered Saudi Arabia was that Pakistan tried to bow to Turkey and Malaysia.
- Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seen as attempting to position himself as the new leader of the Muslim world, challenging the long-standing position of Saudi Arabia.
The China factor
Pakistan and China have been called “allies in any weather” and “iron brothers.” Last year, Beijing supported Pakistan on Kashmir, raising the issue three times at the UN Security Council.
- China has also become Pakistan’s biggest benefactor with funding from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
- Initially valued at $ 46 billion, China’s commitment to Pakistan now stands at $ 62 billion.
- Saudi Arabia has also invested in CPEC projects, to the tune of $ 10 billion, but Pakistan is now looking to Beijing for diplomatic and economic support.
- Qureshi’s visit to China should be viewed in this context. He has reportedly entered into a strategic dialogue with the Chinese foreign minister in Hainan province, southern China.
- He called the visit a “very important trip” and the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said it will “play an important role in strengthening the all-weather Pakistan-China strategic cooperative partnership.”