Khashoggi murder: Will Turkey be the latest country Pakistan alienates to appease Saudi Arabia?
Last week Pakistan got a $6 billion bailout package from Saudi Arabia, which would help address its multi-pronged economic crisis.
The finance ministers of the two states signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which revealed that half of the $6 billion is “balance of payment support”, and the other half being deferred oil import payments.
Of course, what the MoU did not mention was the price that Pakistan is actually going to pay for the agreement that came on the sidelines of the Future Investment Initiative (FII) Conference in Riyadh, where Prime Minister Imran Khan also delivered an address to tour a future Pakistan that has “an enabling environment for investment.”
However, it was the day before his address that PM Khan came under the spotlight for his comments on Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. “Pakistan cannot afford to snub Saudis over Khashoggi killing. We’re desperate at the moment,” Khan said.
PM Khan’s statement underlined just how much Islamabad was willing to go to get the money from Saudi Arabia. While many boycotted the FII owing to the Khashoggi killing, Khan not only attended the event as the premier, and addressed it, he also – rather undiplomatically – underscored that he did not have a choice, in the buildup.
Therefore, the burning question here is: given how desperate the Pakistani premier had already labeled his own country before getting signatures on the MoU, just what has he agreed to on behalf of the country, in such an overt exhibit of desperation?
While the opposition parties are demanding that the conditions be laid bare in front of the Parliament, if and when it does happen it is unlikely that the crucial details of the agreement are shared, let alone made public.
Tales of toe
Before we delve into the new conditions that Islamabad might have to fulfill in exchange for the $6 billion, it is worth mentioning what Pakistan is already doing for Saudi Arabia. Among these is the bilateral agreement between Islamabad and Riyadh which mandates Pakistan’s participation in Saudi Arabia’s domestic security and ensuring that it safeguards the kingdom’s ‘territorial integrity’, for which over 1,000 Pakistani soldiers are present.
Given that many of Riyadh’s proxy conflicts are close to its borders, the safeguarding of Saudi territory often translates into Pakistan’s inadvertent participation in Middle Eastern warfare. On other occasions, there is an explicit demand by Saudi Arabia to supply military training and troops to fight on Riyadh’s behalf. For instance, Saudi Arabia ‘gifted’ $1.5 billion to Pakistan in 2014, asking Islamabad to up its participation in the Syria war.
Right now, the Saudi focus is on Yemen, and by continuing to shore up its defenses on the border, Pakistan is party to Riyadh’s war crimes, which have resulted in a devastating famine.
In addition to the military support, Saudi Arabia has already asked Pakistan to be more vocal in its support for the Islamic Military Counter-Terrorism Coalition, which itself was designed by the now Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman keeping Yemen in mind.
The Yemen conflict, of course, in the broader scheme of things is about Saudi Arabia vying to undo the Shia crescent, which Riyadh feels originates in Tehran and is designed to form a circumference around the Saudi kingdom.
That the Islamic military coalition is designed to counter Iran and the Shia influence in the region can be gauged by the composition of the alliance. And Pakistan has historically been guilty of forgoing its own interests when it goes to bordering Iran in a bid to appease Saudi Arabia – and the US as well, case in point being the Iran-Pakistan pipeline.
With Pakistan allowing Saudi funded radical Wahabbism to be propagated through madrassas in the country, the state has historically had no inhibitions in throwing its Shia population under the bus.
But given that most of this is what Pakistan has done, or continues to do for Saudi Arabia, what is it that Riyadh wants this time around?
There are reports that Saudi Arabia wants to establish its presence in Balochistan, which borders Iran. This also explains the initial claims of the Pakistani government that Saudi Arabia wanted to be a part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, which were later refuted.
Perhaps it was earlier believed that Saudi Arabia’s presence could be linked to CPEC, but a more direct route for Riyadh might be mulled now.
Another obvious demand, which is in line with the Saudis asking for vocal support for the Islamic military coalition, is to provide backing to all of Riyadh’s positions in the Middle East, especially amidst the diplomatic alienation that it could faced in light of the Khashoggi killing.
This could be important for al-Saud family at a time where Oman is calling for Israel’s recognition as it looks to play the role of a mediator in Israel’s conflicts with Palestine and with Iran. The latter will irk Saudi Arabia, having already shunned fellow Gulf Cooperation Council member Qatar for its cooperation with Iran.
If Saudi Arabia has demanded unflinching diplomatic support, which insiders maintain is the case, then that could make relations with Turkey the next major casualty for Pakistan, given the standoff between Riyadh and Ankara.
What could further encourage the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government to make the move is the fact that relations with Turkey were solidified under the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s rule. One would expect the PTI to think beyond party lines and begin to finally represent the entire nation, but two and half months into the rule, the ruling party continues to engage in petty politics and engage in putting the blame for all ills on their predecessors.
If these two and half months are anything to go by, the PTI government doesn’t seem to be making much effort to reinforce the relations with Turkey. In addition to Saudi Arabia, China, overtures as far away as Malaysia have been made, but Turkey hasn’t been engaged.
So will Turkey be the latest country Pakistan alienates to appease Saudi Arabia? A hint on that front could come after President Arif Alvi’s recent visit to Turkey, where he held bilateral talks with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The author is a Lahore-based journalist. He is a correspondent for The Diplomat, and The Asia Times and contributes to various Pakistani and international publications. He tweets @khuldune