Pakistan, Saudi OIC Episode: “Both Sides Have Learned Lessons”

“From the episode, both sides have learned lessons”

Pakistan’s army chief arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday. The head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), General Faiz Hameed, is accompanying Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa.

The top Pak military team’s visit comes amid a diplomatic spat over Islamabad’s demands for Riyadh to convene a high-level meeting of OIC to highlight arch-rival India’s alleged human rights violations in the disputed Kashmir region.

It’s damage control; someone lost control of his tongue in public,” said a senior Pakistani military official to DesPardes on the visit.

“Perhaps to cool things down,” a Pakistani envoy based in EU said.

Saudi media icon Khaled Almaeena who is a Middle East and South Asia observer also, said that it’s a “part of ongoing talks to further cement relations and create a conducive atmosphere”.

A Saudi scholar and professional when asked to comment shared with us this image of a Pakistani and Saudi flag together.

Both the countries’ communities have strong people-to-people relations, “not just their major institutions”, says an observer. More than 2.5 million Pakistani expats live in the Kingdom and remit anywhere between %5 billion and $6 billion annually. “They consider Saudi their second home”.

The Saudi-led Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) is yet to make any major move on the occupied Kashmir issue. This has Pakistan’s civil-military “kind of confused”, to quote an observer.

It was a shocker though “for many” says the analyst, when on August 5, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said: “I am once again respectfully telling the 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.”

Qureshi said that Pakistan had skipped the Kuala Lumpur Summit last December on Saudi Arabia’s request and now Pakistani Muslims were demanding Riyadh “show leadership on the issue”.

Former Pakistani ambassador to Riyadh, Vice Adm. (retd) Hasham bin Saddiq gives his views on Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Bajwa’s visit to Riyadh vis-a-vis the two country’s strong and traditional relationship since decades.

“We have our own sensitivities. You have to realize this. Gulf countries should understand this,” the foreign minister had said, adding that he could no more indulge in diplomatic niceties.

He had made it clear that he was not being emotional and fully understood the implications of his statement. “It’s right, I’m taking a position despite our good ties with Saudi Arabia,” he said.

The Foreign Office (FO) had later defended the minister’s remarks, saying his was a reflection of people’s aspirations and expectations from the OIC to raise the Kashmir issue internationally.

Speaking at a weekly press briefing, the FO spokesperson had said that the people of Pakistan had more expectations from the OIC and would like it to play a leading role in raising the Kashmir issue internationally.

The public play of differences in opinion reportedly irked Saudi Arabia, sources say.

Pakistan has long pressed the Saudi-led Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) to convene a high-level meeting to highlight Indian violations in occupied Kashmir.

But the OIC has only held low-level meetings so far.

Energy and geopolitcial analyst Rashid Hussain Syed (who has lived in Saudi Arabia for several decades, and is now Toronto-based) shares his views with DesPardes:

Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s outburst was not spontaneous. The pressure was building for years. In recent years Pakistan has been watching Saudi Arabia’s growing relations with India, at times at the expense of Pakistan.
OIC was just a manifestation of it. Brushing aside Pakistan’s protests, the then Indian foreign minister, late Sushma Suraj was invited to address the OIC ministerial at Abu Dhabi. SMQ skipped the meeting, and, later Modi was welcomed in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi with open arms. He was decorated at both the capitals. Then, despite some small steps, such as the visit of the OIC delegation to the LOC in March, OIC was hesitant to convene a foreign ministers’ conference. This was the last straw on the back of the proverbial camel. Here India was given the importance of a business partner while Pakistan was given the status of a poor relative. To me, the SMQ diatribe was executed in a thoughtful way. One could though argue it was conceived at what level. Was it just the foreign office or the PM and the COAS were also part of it. But the risk seemed worth taking. As a result, Gulf Arab states will no more be able to take Pakistan for granted. They will need to pay attention to Pakistan’s sensitivities too, as Islamabad does. They will need to think twice before taking a step. If I am reading the thinking in Riyadh correctly, in the process sometimes later, SMQ may have to be put to the altar and sacrificed to sooth the nerves there. Damage control mission is already on. After all, as former Saudi ambassador in Islamabad Awadh al-Asseeri says, “the relationship is too important to fail”. Yes, it is for both. While Pakistan is definitely dependent on Saudi Arabia, for Riyadh too, the price would be consequential, if this partnership breaks dawn none can afford to let that happen, with or without SMQ.

“Insha Allah Good News will come”, says Islamabad-based G R Baloch, an observer and analyst who is also honorary Ambassador to Vietnam.

Bottom line is “from the episode, both sides have learned lessons”, Syed added.

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