09:03 GMT18 September 2020
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    New Delhi (Sputnik): When Pakistan was debt-trapped in 2018, Saudi Arabia was the first one to extend help to Islamabad with a $6.2 billion package, which included $3 billion in loans and oil supply on deferred payments worth $3.2 billion. Nevertheless, some of the issues, including Kashmir, have strained the once strong relations.

    The bilateral ties between Riyadh and Islamabad have received a fresh blow after Pakistan foreign affairs minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi slammed Saudi Arabia for not organising a meeting to discuss Kashmir at the 57-members strong Council of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

    Following Qureshi’s threat of calling a meeting of Islamic countries on its own on Kashmir, Saudi Arabia made strong remarks seeking repayment of $1 billion from Pakistan, which was part of a $ 6.2 billion package announced by Riyadh in November 2018. Saudi Arabia also conveyed to the Imran Khan government that fresh loans or oil supply will no longer be given to Pakistan. 

    The development took Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa to Saudi Arabia, where he denied a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

    The traditional allies—Saudi Arabia and Pakistan—share deep political, cultural, historical and economic ties, but the current developments between the two are being seen as a new low in the relationship by experts.

    Kashmir Issue

    The main bone of contention between the two countries is Kashmir. As per Fazzur Rahman Siddiqui, a research fellow at the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), the current bitterness in the relations between Riyadh and Islamabad is the culmination of all the issues that cropped up between the two strong allies since 2015. Siddiqui highlights the growing closeness among India and Gulf countries after the Narendra Modi-led government came to power, “which has been like a zero-sum game”.

    Tracing the beginning of deterioration of Pakistan-Saudi ties, Fazzur Rahman Siddiqui says the relationship between the two countries started to change after Saudi Arabia entered into Yemen and asked for the help of Pakistan's military, which was completely refused. 

    Saudi Arabia entered Yemen in 2015 and had asked fellow Sunni-majority Pakistan, the only nuclear-armed state in the Muslim world, to provide military help, which was refused by Islamabad following the parliament’s vote against joining the Saudi-led military intervention.

    Siddiqui says Iran and Saudi Arabia are two major players fighting each other historically, politically, ideologically and economically but Islamabad’s unclear stand over Iran has alienated Riyadh.

    India’s ties with Saudi Arabia

    The bilateral ties between India and Saudi Arabia have been strengthened by a series of high level visits by top leaders of the two countries since 2016. The growing ties can be evident from Riyadh’s announcement to make investment worth $100 billion in India in 2019 in areas of energy, refining, petrochemicals, infrastructure, agriculture, minerals and mining. Saudi Arabia has also increased India’s Hajj quota from 170,000 to 200,000. During Modi’s 2016 visit, he was presented with the Sash of King Abdul Aziz, the highest civilian decoration awarded by King Salman.

    Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shakes hands with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, February 20, 2019
    © REUTERS / Adnan Abidi
    Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shakes hands with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, February 20, 2019

    Riyadh has also dubbed India as one of the Kingdom’s strategic partner countries under Vision 2030, along with a proposal to set up a high-level partnership council.

    Siddiqui says when the Kashmir issue again came to the fore, India already had a good understanding with all the Gulf countries and the OIC, which is completely controlled by Saudi Arabia, with Pakistan as a major player.

    “But India has been able to influence these countries not to bring Kashmir in the OIC, as it has maintained that Kashmir is a bilateral issue. India has successfully maneuvered its position in these countries on Kashmir, which has alienated Pakistan further from the Arab world”, Siddiqui says.  

    In a diplomatic victory and setback to Pakistan in 2019, the changing relationships were starkly visible when India was invited to the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) States in Abu Dhabi. Then India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was the guest of honour at the inaugural plenary of the 46th meeting of the OIC.

    Furthermore, the UAE, Oman, and some North African and West Asian nations are among the other Muslim-majority nations backing India on Kashmir. In October 2019, Saudi Arabia had managed to keep Pakistan away from a meeting of Muslim countries at Kuala Lumpur.

    Changing World Order and New Alliances

    While Siddiqui believes that the relations between the two countries are not as bad as being projected in the media, he states that the traditional allies need a pragmatic approach in the changing world order and formation of new alliances, as they rely on each other.

    He says Pakistan’s growing closeness with Iran, China, Turkey, Russia, Malaysia, and Indonesia has given an impression to Saudi Arabia that Islamabad is trying to create a new alliance that consists of non-Arab countries but any kind of rupture or break in the relation would not be that easy.

    Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE are major destinations for over 87 per cent of Pakistanis seeking jobs abroad, as per the data released by Pakistan’s Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment. The inflow of remittances from workers overseas has been highest from Saudi Arabia at approximately $5.4 billion, the State Bank of Pakistan revealed.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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    Jammu and Kashmir, Imran Khan, Narendra Modi, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Pakistani Army, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India
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