TIC Analysis l

In Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir, Hurriyat leaders and organizations have welcomed the OIC for adopting a strong and comprehensive resolution in favour of the Kashmir cause.

Jammu and Kashmir Muslim conference Chairman Shabbir Ahmed Dar in a statement issued in Srinagar said that the OIC’s resolution was timely and eye-opening for those who were beating drums and saying that Kashmir was not on its agenda. The Indian stooges and Indian media as usual were spreading propaganda, he said.

He was referring to an incessant media campaign that had claimed that OIC had removed the Kashmir issue that was also spread by Pakistani media sources like Dawn. This campaign tried to portray that through the fake news of this ‘throwing out of Kashmir” the main sponsor of OIC Saudi Arabia had backstabbed Pakistan in the back. Much of this fake news was generated by Indian sources, intent on portraying the narrative of “global isolation of Pakistan” but this campaign was also bolstered by other actors.

The opinions on Pak-Saudi relationship is often hijacked by biased analysis which usually veer off into sectarianism or blind sensationalism. Both nations have a major stake in each other spanning the economic, military, strategic and religious domains for a clean break over a single issue.

Economic

Saudi Arabia is Pakistan’s largest source of petroleum as well as source of remittance containing one of the largest Pakistani expatriate populations. In 2019, it also became a large investor in Pakistan by investing upto 20 bn $ in the Pakistani economy. It also has assisted Pakistani financially with the most recent being the 6.2 bn $ assistance in the forms of loan and deferred oil payment. Cutting ties with such a powerful patron doesn’t make sense.

This is what Dr. Ali Awadh Asseri, former Saudi ambassador to Pakistan wrote

“It signified that Saudi Arabia was now interested in Pakistan’s long-term economic development, as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that ends at the strategic Gwadar port.

It is worth mentioning here that China is the largest importer of Saudi oil, and Saudi Arabia is also diversifying its global economic links through participation in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and by expanding trade ties with the rest of Asia’s emerging economies.”

And this works both ways, with such a large expatriate population who are not only employees but also co -owners in businesses Saudi will not be finding it too easy to find replacements if it tries to expel them. Not only will it hurt Saudi diversification efforts for its economy but also doom its economy to a rather brutal demise. Saudi Arabia at the moment is currently rather dependent on Pakistani manpower as espoused by Ar.Asseri:

“As Saudi Arabia diversifies its economy away from oil under its Vision 2030, a strategic plan that is the brainchild of our young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, we expect millions of more Pakistanis to contribute to Saudi infrastructure and technological development. The Saudi government has already extended scores of scholarships to educate and train Pakistani youth for this great opportunity.”

In fact, there was a more than double increase of Pakistani manpower to Saudi Arabia in 2019. According to information released by the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development, more than 258,215 Pakistanis traveled to Saudi Arabia in search of employment in different sectors. Manpower export to Saudi Arabia in 2019 has increased by more than 207% when compared to last year. Also, Saudi Arabia has approved a new residency scheme for expatriates is a game-changer for 2.7 million Pakistanis living in the Kingdom, business officials and experts said, and might finally give expatriates who can pay a required fee the right to live, work and own business and property in the Kingdom.

Military

Pakistan’s ties with KSA are predicated essentially on two main determinants: firstly, an exceptional defence collaboration and secondly reverence and esteem attached to the holy land. Pakistan has often been dubbed as “Saudi Arabia’s closest Muslim ally.”and inline with Pakistan’s ideology (Pakistan being the only ideological Muslim country in the world) mandates it to garb the role of a guardian of Saudi Arabia against any external or internal threat. This makes the Muslim World’s sole nuclear power as the guardian of the country as well as the rule of the House of Saud.

Since the 1970s, Pakistani soldiers have been stationed in Saudi Arabia to protect the Kingdom. Pakistan has also been providing training to Saudi soldiers and pilots. Fighter Pilots of the Pakistan Air Force flew aircraft of the Royal Saudi Air Force to repel an incursion from South Yemen in 1969 and Pakistan Army Corps of Engineers built Saudi fortifications along its border with Yemen.

Strategic

The Pak-Saudi relationship actually predates the independence of Pakistan in 1947.

Saudi delegations were welcomed by leaders of the All India Muslim League in Karachi in 1940. In response to Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s call in 1943, King Abdul Aziz had sent the first foreign aid of £10,000 to help the people in famine-hit Bengal. In 1946, Saudi leaders came forward to help a delegation of the league in the United Nations when the delegates were facing issues in their engagements by the Indian National Congress team.

Pakistan strategic game plan is to increase it influence in the Muslim world. By alienating the nation which houses the most sacred places of Islam, would make it a pariah and make the Sunni world more susceptible to Pakistan’s adversaries. Similarly, while Saudi Arabia has great influence in the Arab world among the four major non-Arab powers of the Muslim world including Turkey, Iran and Indonesia, only Pakistan can be termed its ally. Losing the support of the only nuclear power would confine the Saudis to the Arab world where they are already competing with Qatar.

However there are some spoilers that could reduce public standing of Saudi Arabia inside Pakistan:

  1. As Saudi Arabia diversifies its economy it reduces its reliance on low skilled Pakistani help such as shop helpers, drivers which could lead to economic suffering among more vulnerable segments and could lead to negative segments.
  2. The Gulf especially Saudi Arabia’s rather lukewarm bilateral attitude towards Kashmir issue and openness to India could help accelerate negative concepts of the house of Saud in Pakistani populace.
  3. Iranian, Israeli, Qatari and possibly Turkish lobbies active in Pakistan could seek to tarnish certain Saudi actions in order to isolate Islamabad from Riyadh.
  4. The recent acceptance of Israel by Gulf nations through perceived Saudi support could also lead to a negative impression of the Kingdom in Pakistan.

Divergences in policy matters especially over Kashmir could lead to diplomatic maneuvers which could lead to perceptions of a falling out in Pak-Saudi ties. One such maneuver was the recent private interview of Foriegn Minister Shah Mahmood in which he seemingly admonished Saudi nonaction over Kashmir. This led to a media storm in which some crowed that a “break” in Saudi-Pak relationship had occurred. However, The Shah Mahmood episode was a form of innovative foreign policy not seen by the Pakistanis in a long time. Shah Mahmood’s private words were an exercise in plausible deniability to put across reservations to the Saudis. Saudi also responded in the same manner through Dr Asseri’s article.

Much of the later brouhaha is made of speculation largely emanating from Qatari and Indian media sources. Similarly there was a hullabaloo over the “unusual” return of a 1 billion dollar loan to Saudi by Pakistan as well as the end of an oil facility extended by Saudi. The returned loan was actually a product of Saudi economic hardship from Covid 19 (Saudis had lost both its major sources of income; oil and religious tourism) while the oil facility actually expired in May long before Shah Mahmood’s statement.

It is foreseeable that a restructuring of Pakistani foreign policy is already underway with Pakistan’s refusal to take part in the Saudi adventure in Yemen in which while Saudi’s importance will remain but Pakistan will craft a more independent policy changing some goalposts. So in the end it can be asserted Pakistan will not cut ties with Saudi over Kashmir and vice versa.

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