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Analysis

As Gen Bajwa Mends Ties With Saudi Arabia, PTI Govt Should Strive To Fix This Important Relationship

COAS-to-visit-Saudi-Arabia-in-quest-to-smooth-ties

Pakistan’s Army Chief has gone to Saudi Arabia on a four-day visit, after a long spell. It is a very important visit by Gen Bajwa to be followed by Prime Minister Imran Khan, on 7th of this month. Gne Bajwa’s visit comes after a serious friction in relations between the two countries.

The relations became cold when Prime Minister Imran Khan attempted to realign foreign policy, by attempting to join another power bloc led by Turkey. This was the juncture when Saudi Arabia felt that its leadership in OIC was being undermined by Pakistan. PM also floated his intention of fighting Islamophobia in the West and wanted to join forces with Turkey to launch a TV channel to project that narrative to the Western world. But Saudi-Turkish friction came in his way.

Another factor was the perceived tilt of the PTI government towards Iran. Some of the Prime Minister’s cabinet members and advisers who have some influence on Mr Khan’s foreign policy were perceived to have anti Saudi bent.

The third most important factor was the outburst of Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi against Saudi Arabia. This was for the first time Mr Qureshi went public and criticized Saudi Arabia saying that its support on Indian Occupied Kashmir was not pronounced and as such Islamabad was displeased against its strategic partner, i.e., Saudi Arabia.

The relations between India and Saudi Arabia have been growing over the last few years. Delhi succeeded to develop its relations (economic, defense and social) with KSA. Pakistan is  concerned that Indian diplomatic foray in Saudi Arabia would adversely affect it. This upward trajectory of relations between India and Saudi Arabia has consequences for Islamabad’s labour market and defense relations, not to mention the political and diplomatic fall out, i.e., shrinking support for Kashmir. So far, KSA has kept a balancing act–going for all out expansion of ties with India without offending Delhi on its Kashmir policy and keeping Islamabad pleased. But Pakistan really feels the heat of India’s “Look West Policy” which is reconnecting with Gulf states especially Saudi Arabia.

Bu things are not as simple as they appear to be. Riyadh feels that it needs a new alignment with the regional countries as it needs to retain the support of its traditional allies like Pakistan. The backdrop is it is feeling uneasiness in its ties with the Biden administration. Unlike the Trump administration, President Biden is withdrawing support on Yemen. The US has also twisted KSA’s arms on human rights issues, rekindled hopes of Iran nuclear deal, and sought retrenching from the Middle East. KSA also feels diminishing trust in the US as a sole sponsor of its security.

Pakistan is equally challenged on multi fronts in its foreign policy: First, Afghanistan is on the verge of civil war as the US has started to disengage militarily, possibly bringing home specter of terrorism, refugees and new proxy wars. Secondly, EU has put Islamabad on notice due to TLP issue and threatened to revisit GSP-Plus status that could potentially impact Pakistan’s 6 billion dollar exports to Europe. Finally, the dialogue and possible detente with India through back door diplomacy may not work as hawks in Dehli are likely to act as spoilers.

Against this background, the Army Chief is taking the lead as a troubleshooter to reinvigorate relations with Saudi Arabia by engaging with the Saudi policy makers on security issues. Due to Bajwa’s shuttle diplomacy and efforts, the Saudi Government has agreed to invite and host Prime Minister Imran Khan. Critics should note that due to Gen. Bajwa’s closeness with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salam and his involvement, the PTI government’s relations with the Saudi Kingdom have been salvaged.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of NayaDaur Media.

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