Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Is Pakistan Mending Its ‘Soured Ties’ With Saudi Arabia While Keeping Turkey & Iran On Its Side?

Pakistan appears to be working towards reviving its ties with Saudi Arabia days after Indian Army chief’s visit to the Gulf nation. At the same time, Pakistan and Turkey are getting closer and Islamabad has openly expressed its displeasure over the US sanctions on Turkey over its S-400 missile deal with Russia.

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A week after Pakistan repaid $1 billion to Saudi Arabia as the second installment of a $3-billion loan, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has met Saudi Ambassador Nawaf bin Saeed Al-Maliki and expressed willingness to strengthen bilateral relations.

A statement from Pakistan Prime Minister’s office said that the meeting reaffirmed “the resolve to further strengthen the strong, longstanding Pakistan-Saudi Arabia fraternal ties”.

Last week, Indian Army chief, General M.M. Naravane visited Saudi Arabia to meet his counterparts and the senior leadership in order to strengthen ties with the Gulf states. It is yet to be seen how Riyadh balances its relations with India and Pakistan, two South Asian neighbors who have been locked in conflict over Kashmir since their independence.

Islamabad has often raised objections over Saudi Arabia’s disinterest in the Kashmir issue and has accused it of not paying attention to the rights of Muslims.

While there have been problems between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia since 2015 over several issues, Riyadh had in 2018 come forward to save Pakistan from a crisis over a major loan. But now, amid the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic crisis in Pakistan, Riyadh has refused to roll over the loan.

However, Pakistan has also been a silent compliant of Saudi’s demand and has repaid two installments with assistance from its all-weather ally China. Experts have speculated this wind of change is due to shifts within the Islamic countries where Turkey is aiming to replace Saudi Arabia as the leader of the bloc.

Islamabad has aligned itself with Turkey, Malaysia, Iran — an alliance that is being seen as a challenge to Saudi Arabia’s leadership. However, experts have underlined that Islamabad wouldn’t benefit from this alliance because thousands of its people are working in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a major source of income for Pakistan due to remittances.

Pakistan’s alignment with Turkey has been quite visible in recent events such as opposing the US sanctions on Ankara for purchasing the S-400 missile defense system from Russia. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry had issued a statement expressing deep concern over unilateral sanctions.

According to The Dawn, Saudi Arabia’s actions stemmed from its discomfort over Islamabad’s growing closeness with Turkey and Iran. However, Pakistan officials have dismissed all these speculations as propaganda and said that “ties with Saudi Arabia were at a high point as compared to the past decade”.

The Pakistani media reported that Prince Faisal bin Farhan will visit Islamabad next month with a high-level delegation and a Pakistani delegation will also be visiting Riyadh. This has made officials in Pakistan optimistic about the status of bilateral ties in the future.


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