To Ally or not to Ally: Saudi-Pak Relations

The nation of Saudi Arabia is a strong believer in the concept of quid-pro-quo and it seems Saudi’s long time ally Pakistan is going to be reminded of this fact.

For the past two years, Saudi Arabia has been financing and investing in the Pakistan economy as a testament to their confidence in Pakistan’s loyalty. In 2018, Saudi rescued Pakistan from a financial crisis triggered by decreasing foreign reserves and increasing trade deficit by announcing a loan package of $6 billion, which was followed by an overall investment of $20 billion in Pakistan’s economy in 2019. In return, Saudi demanded unerring loyalty within and outside the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC). However, Pakistan has failed to uphold their side of the trade and is currently in deep waters with the Saudi regime.

In a series of unfortunate events, Pakistan has managed to transgress on their agreements. The catalyst to these events was Pakistan’s bid to gain support in their quest to fight India on their decision to revoke Article 370 of the Indian Constitution which gave special status and provisions to Kashmir in India. Since 2019, Pakistan had been trying to arrange a special meeting with the OIC to discuss the matter of Kashmir and to convince the participating nations to hold India accountable for the abrogation of Article 370. However, Saudi refused to join the bandwagon and being a key player in the OIC, Saudi’s support was imperative for Pakistan to gain the support of other Islamic nations. Their refusal made it impossible for Pakistan to fulfil its objective.

Owing to their precarious position post-Saudi’s refusal, Pakistan tried to gain the support of nations that were outside the OIC, namely Malaysia, Turkey and Qatar. Saudi has been engaged in regional disputes with Turkey, and China wants Turkey to replace the position Saudi holds in the Middle East due to Saudi’s relations with the United States. Amidst all this, Saudi and Qatar battle over the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Considering the aforementioned circumstances, Pakistan’s attempt to take advantage of Saudi’s disputes further soured their relations. Comments made by Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on a talk show interview about asking Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to call a meeting outside of OIC to gain support on the issue of Kashmir was the tipping point for the Saudi regime.

Saudi Arabia could not let this public opposition to their and OIC’s decision go unpunished. Riyadh demanded immediate repayment of their loan of $3 billion. While Pakistan managed to pay back $1 billion with China’s help, Saudi refused to entertain pleas for deferred payment. Punishment in the form of monetary compensation is more than what Pakistan can bear considering its dwindling economy. Consequently, Pakistan Army Chief General Bajwa was sent to Riyadh to meet Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman with the hopes of making amends and smoothening the turbulent relations. However, the Crown Prince refused to meet the General, and instead, the Vice Minister of Defence and Chief of General Staff of Saudi were sent to entertain General Bajwa.

The blatant snub underscores the most pressing problem that Pakistan is currently facing. The Crown Prince’s refusal to meet the General is an indication that matters are much more grave, and that the Saudi regime would not be satisfied with appeasing words and meetings. This is only exacerbated by the impending conditions of loan repayment and the grave possibility of losing the $20 billion worth of investments.

Saudi Arabia’s refusal to stand with Pakistan on the issue of Kashmir is also an indicator of growing India-Saudi relations. According to a recent article in The Indian Express, India imports around 19% of its oil requirements from Saudi. The trade between the two countries is estimated at approximately $28 billion. Hence, Saudi cannot oppose India’s decision regarding Kashmir. Saudi’s preference for India over Pakistan is a confirmation of Pakistan’s dwindling position in the OIC and as Saudi’s ally.

Fearing the loss and wrath of a powerful ally, Shah Mahmood Qureshi made a trip to China as soon as the dignitaries sent to Saudi returned. While Pakistan does have China’s support, the strength and extent of the support remain to be seen. China has invested huge amounts of money in Pakistan’s economy under the former’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and has kept the Pakistan economy from crumbling. Thereby, China holds sway over Pakistan, but whether the reverse is true or not cannot be ascertained. Qureshi’s trip to China may help Pakistan pay back the loans, however, the impact of their position with the OIC will certainly have a long-term impact on Pakistan’s trade and international relations. It also remains to be seen how long China would be willing to bail Pakistan out every time they manage to offend their allies.

In a bid to gain the upper hand with India, Pakistan has managed to land itself in significant trouble with powerful nations. India’s expanding trade relations with Middle Eastern nations has made it extremely difficult for Pakistan to gather support against them. The issue of Kashmir has long been a festering wound for Pakistan, but is it important enough for the country to endanger their diplomatic tussle and lose out investments to keep their country afloat? In its current situation, Pakistan can either assuage the disgruntled Saudi regime or hold them at bay long enough to gather the funds necessary for loan repayment.

However, even if they manage to pay the loans, Pakistan’s economy faces the imminent threat of economic collapse. Pakistan will not be able to use China as a crutch, and this relationship is likely to end the same way as Pakistan-US agreements. Pakistan’s tendency to provide refuge to terrorists has further aggravated many of its allies, and India has recently made public statements about holding Pakistan liable for the same. Amidst tempestuous international relations, fragile trade relations and changing tides of globalisation, Pakistan needs to come up with a better strategy to reduce its dependence upon other countries or the consequences in the future would be far worse than angry Princes and loan repayments.


Vidhi Arora

An 80 year old stuck in a 20 year old's body, with a penchant for ranting and reading.

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