Updated: August 21, 2020 11:15:37 am
Pakistan’s Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa is on a visit to Saudi Arabia in a bid to straighten out diplomatic relations between the two countries, strained since early this year. On Monday however, Bajwa’s request for a meeting with the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was declined. Instead, Bajwa met Saudi Vice Minister of Defence Khalid bin Salman, and was received by the Saudi Chief of General Staff Maj. Gen. Fayyad bin Hammad Al-Ruwaili.
Bajwa was sent to Riyadh after the latter insisted on early repayment of a $3 billion loan, reports suggest. Earlier in August, Pakistan repaid a $1 billion loan to Saudi Arabia with China’s help.
The two countries are long-time allies. In 2019, Saudi Arabia pledged investment deals worth over $20 billion with Pakistan, including a $10 billion investment in Gwadar, to boost its economy. Before that, in November 2018, Saudi Arabia had announced a loan package worth over $6 billion as Pakistan was staring at a financial crisis with dwindling foreign reserves and a widening trade deficit.
What is the reason for strained Saudi-Pakistan relations?
The dispute between the countries arose in February when Saudi Arabia rejected Pakistan’s request to convene a special meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), to gain Muslim countries’ support on the Kashmir issue. OIC members include Malaysia, Indonesia, Iraq, Iran, UAE, Bangladesh, Turkey and Afghanistan, among others, and are largely led by Saudi Arabia and therefore its support is important.
Pakistan has been insisting on such a meeting since the abrogation of Article 370 by India that stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its special status on August 5 last year.
Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi recently repeated the demand, when in a talk show interview, he said, “I am once again respectfully telling OIC that a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers is our expectation. If you cannot convene it, then I’ll be compelled to ask Prime Minister Imran Khan to call a meeting of the Islamic countries that are ready to stand with us on the issue of Kashmir and support the oppressed Kashmiris.”
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Why is Saudi Arabia not supporting Pakistan on Kashmir?
While Saudi Arabia has supported Pakistan on the Kashmir issue in earlier decades, the kingdom along with other Gulf countries has largely stayed away from issuing statements against India on the abrogation of Article 370.
In fact, in 2019, while the foreign ministers of UAE and Saudi Arabia went to Islamabad on a symbolic visit to show their support with Pakistan after the abrogation of Article 370, they did not strongly condemn India’s decision. One reason for this could be the emerging trade ties between the Gulf countries and India, especially with Saudi Arabia.
The kingdom is India’s fourth-largest trading partner and the value of bilateral trade between the two countries is estimated to be around $28 billion, with a majority of it being crude oil exports to India, which imports around 19% of its oil requirements from Saudi Arabia. There is also a refinery project set to be jointly built by Saudi Aramco and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), which faced an estimated cost escalation to $70 billion from the previous $44 billion in late 2019.
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Apart from this, the countries also have defence, security and counter-terror cooperation, and have seen steady progress in relations since 2006, when King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud visited India. The two sides signed the landmark Delhi Declaration during that visit, which laid the framework for upgrading ties to the level of “strategic partnership” in 2010, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Saudi Arabia.
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