Changing Horses in Midstream: KSA & Pakistan

Islamabad-Riyadh relations are historically at the lowest ebb. In the past, Pakistan has always protected and prioritized Saudi interests in the region but now the dynamics are changing for the good. Saudi Arabia has been a cash-cow for Pakistan. It’s high time for Pakistan to contour its foreign policy towards the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia particularly after the two significant events that damages the interests of Muslim countries on the whole. These events include, the UAE-Israel peace deal that will definitely be followed Saudi Arabia putting a full stop to the Palestinian struggle and the second event is Riyadh silence over the brutalities in Kashmir by the Indian armed forces. A few weeks back, Riyadh also demanded the return of loan packages of $6.2 billion including oil credit facility (free oil) of $3.2 billion. This was given back right away by the Pakistani government with the help of its well-weathered partnering China. This was a signal of distant relations between two old allies but now Pakistan gave signal to the Kingdom about relations on equal bases and equal treatment.

Saudi Arabia has given oil supplies to Pakistan at a very high cost. Over here, I am not referring to the monetary cost instead Pakistan has paid social, political and high economic costs by adopting a pro-Saudi foreign policy without analyzing cost-benefits. The export of Wahabism into the country has posed high cost to the public relations and perceptions of society. Riyadh has used Pakistan for countering the Iranian influence in the region by propagating, training and funding Wahhabi school of thought in the country. This resulted in brutal sectarian violence and killings of thousands of people in the country. The making of extremist sectarian violent groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhagvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba were fruits of Wahabism. Saudi Arabia has always had strong influence in the public spheres of Pakistani society. According to some sources, Taliban’s were also recruited on the bases of DeoBandi and Wahabi sects that resulted in attacks on Shais even in the streets of Pakistan. In 1986, because of strong Saudi influence in the society of Pakistan, Fatwas of apostatisation against Shia were given by some funded imams and Moulans. This also damaged the society of Pakistan causing hatred on the basis of sects. Export of Wahabism along with oil was a gift of Saudi Arabia to Pakistan that caused huge violence in the society. And because of this very reason Pakistan refused to send its troops in Yemen war.

The shift of Pakistan’s strategic focus from Saudi Arabia to Turkey, Malaysia and China is pinching the Kingdome. Because in the near future Turkey might pose potential challenges to the leadership of Kingdom in the Muslim world and China is a grave challenge for the “close” ally of Saudi Arabia that is United States of America. The refusal of Saudi Arabia and no interest in raising the Kashmir issue on the international forums, showing no interests in calling of OIC for highlighting the atrocities on Kashmiri people by the Indian armed forces and its territorial issue is a signal for Pakistan to contour its foreign policy and drop the policy of pleasing and appeasement. The statement of Shah Mahmood Qureshi after KSA’s refusal special meeting of OIC over Kashmir issue is a sign of Pakistan’s foreign policy shift and a message to KSA of its declined importance for Pakistan.

Pakistan has kept the policy of neutrality and non-interference in the Middle East issue. It has also supported the narrative of Saudi Arabia on the conflict of Syria. On the other hand, whenever Pakistan has not abed by the foreign policy interests of Saudi Arabia in the region, they instantly begin to receive threats of return of Pakistani laborers. Saudi Arabia’s strong strategic military agreements with India and its silence over Kashmir is a indication for Pakistan to alter its foreign policy towards Riyadh.

It seems as if the region is moving towards the making of new alliances. These alliances include two new blocs. The first bloc consists of Arab nations, US and Israel on the other hand is Turkey, Malaysia, Iran, Russia and China. While analyzing the current situation Pakistan is shifting its foreign policy that includes no military stand-offs and proxies in their country. It shows that Islamabad is more heedful on establishing strong economic and diplomatic ties with its “immediate neighbors” that also includes Iran. Putting the religious affiliations in the corner. Pakistan is moving towards a paradigm shift that is all about economic progress, security and stability in the region. Pakistan has to prioritizing its own interest’s instead of serving the interests of allies. It’s time to analyze the situation keenly and take important decisions that will determine the future of Pakistan. In the mid 1960’s Pakistan has rearrange its relations by shifting from Iran to Arab states after Iran’s close relations with India and funding of unrest in Baluchistan province of Pakistan. This was the time when strategic depth was emanated and again the time has come to review. The foreign policy of appeasement and pleasing should be changed for Arab Nations and a policy of “partners not masters” should be adopted for a more balanced approach in the near future. The Arabs increasing close ties with the Israel and United States and India clarifies the whole situation. Arabs are finding a secure bloc as after 2023, they are foreseeing threats to their leadership and rule over the entire Muslim countries as the crown might be shifted from KSA to Turkey. In the changing geo-political situation, it will be quite less costly for Saudi-Arabia to sideline Pakistan and Gwadar than damaging its relations with US by establishing ties with China. Pakistan has to decide its direction for the future and reevaluate the strategic worth of Saudi Arabia in the changing geo-political situations Its Saudi Arabia can diversify its relations that Pakistan has options too. It does not mean a complete abandonment of each other; it’s rather a more sensible approach of Pakistan to rearrange its strategic calculus and rearranging its priorities.

Sojla Sahar
Sojla Sahar
The writer is a student of Peace and Conflict Studies at NDU Islamabad. She has been writing for various newspapers and has keen interests in Middle East affairs, Afghanistan, religious and ethnic conflicts, Foreign policy of Pakistan and Conflict resolution/ Management.