Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has began a three-day go to to Saudi Arabia in an effort to reset relations after tensions between the longtime allies lately.
Khan’s arrival in Riyadh on Friday after an invite from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman holds a lot significance, analysts say. Whereas Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have traditionally been shut allies, their sturdy ties have suffered a number of setbacks.
“PM Khan’s go to to Saudi Arabia this week … is an try to reset relations to their former, very shut degree,” mentioned Madiha Afzal, a fellow on the overseas coverage programme of Brookings Establishment.
The 2 nations stay necessary geostrategic companions and a secure relationship between Islamabad and Riyadh is predicted to proceed.
Important go to
Pointing to the significance of Khan’s go to, Pakistan’s military chief Basic Qamar Javed Bajwa arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday forward of the prime minister’s arrival.
Bajwa was acquired by Pakistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia Bilal Akbar and Saudi army officers in preparation for Khan’s journey.
“Bajwa, like all Pakistani military chiefs, calls the photographs on overseas coverage, and his personal go to was clearly meant to convey a Pakistani seriousness of objective prematurely of Khan’s arrival,” mentioned Michael Kugelman, a senior affiliate for South Asia on the Wilson Middle think-tank.
Whereas most observers anticipate discussions throughout the go to to deal with financial engagement – together with work alternatives for Pakistani expatriates in Saudi Arabia and Saudi funding in Pakistan – Riyadh may even attempt to strengthen political ties with Pakistan.
“Given the Biden administration’s robust stance in the direction of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh can not afford to chop off any allies on the moment- be they huge or small in significance,” mentioned Arhama Siddiqa, a analysis fellow on the Institute of Strategic Research Islamabad.
The go to represents “all sides’s try to additional a sustainable and mutually useful partnership”, Siddiqa advised Al Jazeera.
Kugelman mentioned whereas a core purpose for Islamabad will probably be to regain monetary help from Riyadh: “The aim of Khan’s go to, for each nations is straightforward. To have the ability to say that the partnership is again on degree floor.”
In recent times, the connection between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia after many years of shut financial, army and political cooperation suffered a number of fractures.
In August final 12 months, Pakistan accused the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a bloc of 57 Muslim-majority nations led by Saudi Arabia – of inaction over New Delhi’s choice to strip Indian-administered Kashmir of its particular standing in 2019.
With Kashmir being a key coverage challenge for Pakistan, Khan threatened to carry a rival assembly that may bypass the OIC – a transfer perceived as a problem to Saudi Arabia’s management position within the Muslim world.
Riyadh responded by withdrawing $1bn of a $3bn interest-free mortgage it prolonged to Pakistan in 2018, at a time when the South Asian nation was struggling dire financial circumstances.
Though the difficulty was patched up inside days, the diplomatic spat threatened to derail the Islamabad-Riyadh alliance.
Previous to that, tensions have been excessive over Pakistan’s refusal to ship its troops to struggle within the Saudi-led coalition’s conflict in opposition to Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen in 2015.
Regardless of the nations having fun with sturdy army ties, with Pakistan repeatedly offering troops and army coaching to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan selected to stay impartial in Yemen’s conflict.
‘Dragged into Saudi wars’
Commenting on Pakistan’s stance, Kugelman advised Al Jazeera: “Not solely does Pakistan not need to be dragged into Saudi wars, it additionally doesn’t need to get dragged into the Saudi Arabia-Iran rivalry.”
Relations continued to worsen when Pakistan additionally selected to be impartial because the Qatar-Gulf disaster erupted in 2017.
In 2019, Khan additionally introduced he would attend a summit in Malaysia that Saudi Arabia was not invited to, which its rivals – Iran, Turkey and Qatar – have been set to attend. Pakistan solely withdrew from the summit after Khan visited the dominion days forward of the assembly.
These rifts have allowed Pakistan’s archrival India to realize considerably of a foothold within the Gulf area, because it strengthens ties not solely with Saudi Arabia however the United Arab Emirates as nicely.
In recent times, Saudi Arabia has invested closely in Indian infrastructure and oil initiatives, whereas India has additionally amplified its cooperation in counterterrorism efforts with Gulf nations.
Regardless of this, sturdy Saudi-Pakistan ties are important for either side, say analysts.
“Pakistan-Saudi relations are synonymous to a wedding the place divorce will not be doable. Either side wants the opposite,” Siddiqa advised Al Jazeera. “For Pakistan, on the forefront is the Pakistani diaspora and the necessity for overseas direct funding.”
With greater than 2.5 million Pakistani expatriates in Saudi Arabia, their remittances represent a good portion of overseas reserves for the nation.
Moreover, the 2 nations have a robust commerce relationship, which totalled greater than $1.7bn in 2019. About 74 p.c of that consisted of Pakistani oil imports from Saudi Arabia.
“For Saudi Arabia, Pakistan is a supply of oil exports [especially] in mild of the China-Iran deal,” mentioned Siddiqa, referring to a deal signed in March that’s anticipated to see China shopping for Iranian oil and investing in Iran in defiance of American sanctions.
Pakistan is due to this fact, a strategic companion for Saudi Arabia, making it unlikely that India can fill its place.
“In the event that they [Saudi Arabia] push Pakistan away will probably be to their very own detriment,” Siddiqa mentioned.
Kugelman agreed: “For Pakistan, Saudi Arabia continues to be a key financial companion and strategic participant,” he mentioned referring to expatriate employees and their remittances.
“Saudi Arabia sees Pakistan as a geopolitically important nation due to its location, because it borders each Iran, Riyadh’s rival, and India – an more and more shut pal.”
Whereas Khan’s go to units the stage for a reset in Pakistan-Saudi ties and a brand new regular “characterised by comparatively secure relations”, mentioned Kugelman, the connection is unlikely to return to the way in which it was earlier than.
Echoing related sentiments, Afzal advised Al Jazeera: “Saudi Arabia has proven that it’s unwilling to ‘do extra’ on Kashmir due possible largely to its shut and rising financial relationship with India.
“This week’s go to will possible be a public try to get well from that rupture and to point out solidarity with Pakistan having accepted the truth that it can not anticipate the dominion to behave on Kashmir.”