SRINAGAR: In an apparent move to mend fences with the wealthiest Islamic nation, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is visiting Saudi Arabia on May 7. Reports appearing in the Pakistani media suggest that he is flying on the invitation of Riyadh’s totalitarian crown prince, Mohammad bin Salam (MbS).
Ahead of the Ramzan 25, visit, however, Pakistan army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa has landed in Riyadh last night on Tuesday. He was received by Pakistan’s recently appointed Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Lt-Gen (retd) Bilal Akbar and Saudi military officials who have replace most of Pakistan embassy staff in Saudi Arabia, recently and quietly.
Islamabad, it may be recalled here has almost purged its Riyadh mission. “Prime Minister Imran Khan has taken such strong notice of the negative behaviour of the ambassador and his staff, something that has never happened before and it will send a clear message to diplomats that any lapse in public service delivery will not be tolerated, he said,” Pakistan website, Business Recorder quoted Mian Zahid Hussain, Chairman of National Business Group of FPCCI saying. This, he said, “will boost the confidence of overseas Pakistanis”.
— Arab News Pakistan (@arabnewspk) May 5, 2021
Hussain had regretted that Pakistani expats are sending US $27 billion per annum against Pakistani’s overall exports are US $23 billion but “they are not treated well by the staff of Pakistani embassies in many countries”.
Both trips, however, are being seen as significant in the thaw in ties between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. “The resumption of high-level visits comes against the backdrop of quiet efforts by two sides to remove hiccup in their ties. The hectic behind the scene efforts finally led to a telephonic conversation between Prime Minister Imran and Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman in March. This was the first contact between the two leaders in 15 months,” the Pakistani newspaper, Express Tribune reported. “Prior to the telephonic conversation, foreign ministers of the two countries also spoke to lay the ground for the prime minister’s visit.”
But what is Bajwa doing in the desert kingdom?
“Many believe that in his meetings in Riyadh, Gen Bajwa would lay the groundwork for the prime minister’s visit that is expected to revive Saudi assistance to Pakistan,” Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported. “Gen Bajwa last visited Saudi Arabia in August after a hiccup in bilateral relations, which was caused by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s statement on Saudi-dominated Organisation of Islamic Cooperation for its failure to convene a special meeting of the foreign ministers of the member countries for a discussion on the Kashmir dispute.”
“Pakistan’s New Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Lieutenant General (r) Bilal Akbar, in an interview with Saudi media, said memorandums of understanding in three areas will be signed during the premier’s visit. He said a meeting related to prisoners’ release will be held during Imran Khan’s visit whereas the release of prisoners will be expedited with Saudi Arabia’s cooperation. He added that hundreds of prisoners will be released from jails in Saudi Arabia and return to Pakistan,” another Pakistani newspaper Daily Times reported. Earlier in February 2019, Riyadh had set free 2107 Pakistani prisoners.
Khan in his overnight visit will meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other Saudi leaders. Several members of the cabinet, including Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry and PM’s special aide on Middle East Tahir Ashrafi, will accompany the prime minister, reports in Pakistan media said.
“Many believe that in his meetings in Riyadh, Gen Bajwa would lay the groundwork for the prime minister’s visit that is expected to revive Saudi assistance to Pakistan,” Dawn reported.
The relations between the two allies have had a bumpy relation in the recent past. In 2015, reports said, Pakistan refused to send troops to join the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. Later, however, it deployed former army chief General (retd) Raheel Sharif and joined the Saudi-led Islamic military alliance against terrorism.
“When Prime Minister Imran took charge in August 2018, Saudi Arabia extended $6 billion financial package to Pakistan to shore up its depleting foreign reserves,” The Express Tribune reported. “However, ties between the two countries suffered another blow after Pakistan first decided to attend a conference of Saudi Arabia’s rivals in Kaula Lampur. Islamabad had to withdraw from the summit after Riyadh warned of serious consequences. Pakistan skipped the Kaula Lampur summit after Saudi Arabia assured that it would convene the OIC meeting on Kashmir. However, that proposal never saw light at the end of the tunnel, compelling Foreign Minister Qureshi to publically criticise Saudi Arabia.”
The relationship, the newspaper reported, became so tense that Pakistan had to return the US $3 billion to Saudi Arabia.
“However, diplomatic sources expect that much of that Saudi attitude is going to change soon. Military diplomacy has reportedly played a major role in ironing out the differences that were souring the ties,” Dawn has reported. “Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have longstanding military ties, which are governed by a bilateral security cooperation agreement of 1982, under which Pakistan assists the kingdom in training and defence production capabilities. Pakistani troops have, moreover, been stationed in Saudi Arabia in training and advisory role.”
#Pakistan PM #ImranKhan would take up the issue of the release of Pakistani prisoners from Saudi jails during #SaudiArabia visit this month, international media reported on Tuesday. https://t.co/1IdS4jzRpc
— Arab News Pakistan (@arabnewspk) May 5, 2021
The Biden administration seemingly is deciding things now. It has withdrawn support to Yemen rebels and asserted the human rights wrongdoings of the Riyadh monarchy would be looked into. Even MBS is not being taken seriously by the new US administration, unlike Donald Trump. “The new US government’s intention to revive the Iran nuclear deal also pushed Saudi Arabia to revisit its strategy,” the newspaper reported.