Much has been reported in both the local and international Media about the covert and overt diplomatic interaction between the Israeli-Saudi officials to normalize the realtions—paving the way for a genuine concern for Pakistan. Needless to say, despite having had a history of their proverbial relations, the two brotherly Islamic countries- Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have recently undergone to experience some asymmetric dynamics/ cross-currents in their relationship. Though a policy statement given by the Saudi FM Faisal Bin Farhan (on August 20) emphasizing that ‘’no deal with Israel without peace for Palestinians’’ has somehow dispelled the confusion arising in the mind of Muslim Ummah about Israel-Saudi rapprochement, a feeling of discomfiture still prevails in Pakistan regarding Saudi Arabia’s growing ties with both Israel and India-the two known foes of Islam and Muslims. To win the hearts and minds of the Pakistanis, Riyadh needs to revive the core of its traditional ties with Pakistan.
As manifested by the current deal concluded between the United Arab Emirates and Israel that today Muslim word faces a challenge of unity among its ranks and files
History is witness to the fact that both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have had long maintained a strong, strategic relationship. The two brotherly states have worked within the framework of several bilateral, regional and global forums, including the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. The crux of Saudi Arabia’s cooperation remained financial while the nuclear- armed Pakistan role has been to support on the security front. The former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki bin Faisal once described relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as “probably one of the closest relationships in the world between any two countries” As the custodian of the Two Holy sites in Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia maintained a legacy of its sustainable relations with Pakistan’s political and military. In return, Pakistan has been helping the Saudi government in maintaining iron-clad security of the two Holy sites for decades. Islamabad has also cooperated closely with Saudi Arabia to uplift its global image. The Saudis have also been allowed to spread their extremist Wahhabi version of Islam in Pakistan through a vast network of mosques and seminaries. During the Cold war period, the relations between the two states reached its zenith, particularly, the collaboration the two sides cemented during the Afghan Jihad-1979-89. Though the Iranian revolution inspired the Shia groups, the Saudi-Pakistani alliance in Afghanistan and General Zia’s Islamisation policies did play the same role for Sunni groups.
In the post 9/11 phase, the Taliban factor gained pivotal consideration for Riyadh because of two obvious reasons. Firstly, Iran might have developed its own ties with the Afghan Taliban; secondly, high-level talks were held with the Taliban in Qatar, with which Riyadh remains at a standoff. Furthermore, in the post –Musharraf era, the Iranian and the Chinese factors also remain instrumental in visualizing the relations between Riyadh and Islamabad as similarly for us the Pakistanis Saudi ties with Israel and India remain the source of genuine concerns.
During MBS’ visit to Pakistan in February 2019, the crown prince told Prime Minister Imran Khan: “Consider me an ambassador of Pakistan in Saudi Arabia. “The fact remains that Prime Minister Imran Khan hasn’t visited any other country more than Saudi Arabia, and similarly the crown prince himself visited Pakistan with a large delegation.” Needless to say, Islamabad-Riyadh always enjoyed historic and diverse relations despite recurring changes in Pakistan’s political landscape. And of course, the relationship grew closer amid the crown prince visit to Pakistan, during which he signed $20 billion in memorandums of understanding, and was given a no-expense- spared, red-carpet welcome by both Imran Khan and the chief of army staff.
And yet undeniably, the relations between Islamabad and Riyadh have largely endured despite recent hiccups such as when Prime Minister Khan had to cancel his participation in the Kuala Lumpur summit late last year under Saudi pressure. That meeting, attended by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, was seen by Riyadh as a challenge to the OIC, which is headquartered in Jeddah.
Recently, Pakistan FM Shah Mehmood Qureshi took a principal stand while reminding our Saudi brothers that if the KSA will not call the OIC meeting on India’s illegal revocation of the Kashmir status, Islamabad would fulfil this moral responsibility. By any diplomatic yardstick, the comments of Pakistan Foreign Minister should have not been taken out of context. It needs no mentioning that for decades, the Saudi-Pakistani relations have been strong in multiple dimensions. Riyadh has been among Pakistan’s strongest supporters on the Kashmir issue and the two have been allies for decades in the Afghan conflict Saudi Arabia is also the source of 50 percent of Pakistan’s oil imports and the two countries have strong defence ties too. Saudi Arabia is also a major source of financial support for Pakistan. Indeed, rarely has Pakistan paid back these loans.
Needless to say, the Saudi -backed UAE -Israel deal– both in form and substance– does not fulfil the credo of the OIC Charter: ‘’…to adhere our commitment to the principles of the United Nations Charter, the present Charter and International Law; o endeavour to work for revitalizing Islam’s pioneering role in the world while ensuring sustainable development, progress and prosperity for the peoples of Member States; to enhance and strengthen the bond of unity and solidarity among the Muslim peoples and Member States; to respect, safeguard and defend the national sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all Member States…’’ Obviously, the Arabs’ espoused rapprochement with Israel without settling the question of the simmering Palestinian issue (the right to self-determination) has not only caused perturbation in Pakistan but also in the Muslim Ummah. By no means, Pakistan can leave the Palestinian question of freedom at the helm of the Israeli government.
On the premise of Pakistan foreign relations with the Muslim states, Pakistan knits its cordial relations with Turkey, Iran and Malaysia-a factor that might have been irritating the Saudis. While for we the Pakistanis, Riyadh’s unflinching tilt –towards both Israel and India –irritates us. But in diplomacy, these asymmetric challenges are amicably settled. But Saudis must realise that the Kashmir and the Palestinian issues are the bloodlines of Pakistan’s foreign policy. By no means, Islamabad can downplay its role in galvanizing these issues on the global level. Pakistan-China common stand on Kashmir endorses this objective. The Palestinians rightly argue that normalization with Israel means– opening the door wide to tamper with the security and capabilities of our countries and peoples to serve its settlement colonial project, "the Greater Israel," especially since it has the ability to do so with its own capabilities or open American support.
As manifested by the current deal concluded between the United Arab Emirates and Israel that today Muslim word faces a challenge of unity among its ranks and files. A general perception anchored in the Muslim world holds that the said deal could have not been possible without a Saudi-backing. In this regard, both Riyadh and Islamabad have to save the legacy of their historic relationship.