Reviewing Pakistan’s Ties with Saudi Arabia By Portia Conrad
The recent conundrum over Pakistan’s non-participation at the Kuala Lumpur Summit allegedly on Saudi Arabia’s directions, calls for a review of Pakistan’s diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia. While some reports indicate that Saudi Arabia threatened Pakistan with economic sanctions, others point towards a strong anticipation of radical change(s) in the Muslim world. The article aims to analyse the recent developments which could bring significant changes in Pakistan’s posture within the Muslim World.
For the Kuala Lumpur Summit, which took place between 19 and 21 December 2019, Pakistan was one of the first countries with which Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir had shared his plans for holding the summit when he met Prime Minister Imran Khan along with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session in New York in September 2019. Later, Imran Khan formally conveyed his acceptance of the invitation for attending the summit when Deputy Foreign Minister of Malaysia Marzuki Bin Haji Yahya called on him in Islamabad on 29 November 2019.
The Summit had already become controversial after Malaysia’s refusal to extend invites to Saudi Arabia and its close allies in the Gulf region. Reportedly, Iran, Turkey, Qatar, and Pakistan were the primary invitees to the summit, which included more than 400 Muslim scholars from across the world. In the advent of the Special Foreign Ministers’ Meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Summit was seen by Saudis as an attempt to create a new bloc in the Muslim world that could become an alternative to the dysfunctional OIC led by the Gulf Kingdom. It may be noted that, the OIC is a 57-member grouping of Muslim majority nations. However, now what seems to be a diplomatic achievement for India, the Ministry of External Affairs has managed to have the OIC downgrade the level of participation for the meeting that could take place to discuss the issue of Kashmir. As reported earlier, the OIC meeting on Kashmir might not take place in Saudi Arabia but in Pakistan now in February 2020.
The recent visit of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan is also being seen as an attempt by Pakistan to garner support to host the OIC special meet. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister of Pakistan has directed his Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to undertake visits to Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States as part of his efforts to seek de-escalation in tensions in the Middle East. Pakistan is visibly caught between the Arab world and aspiring powers of Islamic world like Turkey & Malaysia. It cannot ignore Saudi Arabia for its financial and religious dependence on them. However, it may alter its overall position and propaganda in the coming months to accommodate the other side of the Islamic world for a more nuanced purview of its foreign policy. This may result in further diplomatic tensions between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.