Pakistan Renews Security Assurance to Saudi Arabia
NEW DELHI: Following a string of blasts across Saudi Arabia, including one outside Masjid-i-Nabvi in Madina, the second-holiest site in Islam, Pakistan on Tuesday renewed its security assurance to the Kingdom.
The government “reiterates its abiding commitment to the safety, security and territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia,” the Foreign Office said in a statement on terrorist attacks in Madina, Qatif and Jeddah.
The statement comes as reports indicate that the Jeddah attack -- that was foiled as when security officers confronted a man acting suspiciously causing him to detonate explosives, killing himself and wounding two guards -- was carried out by a Pakistani national.
According to Dawn News, the renewal of security assurance was made public by the Foreign Office after a telephonic conversation between Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif and Saudi Defence Minister Prince Mohammad bin Salman. “The COAS sympathised with affected families of attack victims and said we stand shoulder to shoulder with our Saudi brothers in fighting the menace of terrorism,” the ISPR said in a statement.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are close allies, with Pakistan having a longstanding agreement with Saudi Arabia guaranteeing the kingdom’s security. This understanding was strained last year when Pakistan did not send troops for joining the kingdom’s invasion of Yemen.
Pakistan had to make repeated assurances of its commitment to Saudi Arabia following the decision, with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif telling Saudi Foreign Minister Dr Adel Al-Jubeir that “the people of Pakistan held the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in high esteem and also had deep respect for the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. … (they) will always stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Saudi Arabia against any threat to its territorial integrity and sovereignty.”
Tensions had arisen between the two countries over a multinational coalition against terrorism that Saudi Arabia announced in December last year. The coalition was a point of friction in Pakistan, as officials in the country first denied involvement, going as far as to say that Pakistan had never been consulted on the decision. Officials changed their stance a day later, confirming the country’s inclusion, in what has become a characteristic vacillation given Pakistan’s stance with Saudi Arabia.
The 34-nation alliance was announced by Mohammed bin Salman, the country's defence minister and deputy crown prince. It includes, in addition to Lebanon, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia -- Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, the Palestinians, Qatar, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. A notable exception was Iran.
"It is time that the Islamic world take a stand, and they have done that by creating a coalition to push back and confront the terrorists and those who promote their violent ideologies," said Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi foreign minister, at the time.
The coalition itself followed a strain in relations over Saudi Arabia’s invasion of Yemen. Pakistan found itself having to walk a tightrope between its close ties with the Saudi monarchy and the costs of involvement. Eventually, the Pakistani Parliament voted in favour of a resolution affirming the country’s “neutrality” on the conflict in Yemen in April this year.
The call for neutrality had its own complications as it evoked a sharp reaction from Saudi allies, with the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs warning Pakistan that it would pay a “high price” for its “ambiguous stand”. Although there was no other public consternation, analysts agree that behind-the-scene pressure from other Arab capitals prompted Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to overstep protocol and issue a clarification of sorts. Sharif appeared in front of cameras in the company of his ministers and advisors and reiterated Pakistani support for Saudi Arabia.
“Pakistan does not abandon friends and strategic partners, especially at a time when their security is under threat,” Sharif said. “We are also in touch with other GCC countries to assure them that their disappointment was based on an apparent misinterpretation of parliament’s resolution,” the Prime Minister added. In what may be seen as an attempt to offer an olive branch to the Saudis, Sharif condemned the overthrow of Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government and referred to the Houthis as rebels -- the language here being at variance with the resolution that stressed on neutrality.
The difficulty was evident as Pakistan could not afford to ignore Saudi Arabia’s request, given its close relations with the Saudi monarchy. In addition to being allied in terms of Sunni sectarian identity, Pakistan continues to receive much-needed financial assistance from Riyadh. Last year, for instance, Pakistan reportedly received $1.5 billion in aid from Saudi Arabia to meet debt obligations and bolster its foreign exchange reserves. History, too, is indication of Pakistan’s commitment to Saudi Arabia. In 1990, Pakistan agreed to join an international coalition in defence of Saudi Arabia against Iraqi aggression.
A meme that was widely circulated puts a humourous spin on a very real reality of close ties and dependency:
At the same time, however, Pakistan had to be careful of its own relations with Iran -- with whom it shares a border and who reportedly support the Houthi rebels -- and it had to be mindful of not overextending the Pakistani army, that is already embroiled in a military offensive within the country’s own borders.
After months of tensions, things seemed to be improving between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, as Pakistan's chief of army staff, General Raheel Sharif, visited Riyadh in November and held talks with King Salman, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, and Defense Minister Prince Muhammad bin Salman.The Saudi and Pakistani media welcomed the meetings as a thaw in the somewhat freeze.
In January this year, the Saudi FM visited Pakistan, prompting PM Sharif to make statements reiterating Pakistan’s support to Saudi Arabia. It is worth remembering that when Sharif was removed by the military in Pakistan in 1999, he was granted exile in Saudi Arabia. His government’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, therefore, is political fodder -- with the opposition loudly criticising Pak-Saudi ties.
(Photo: Saudi defence minister calls on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif PM House Islamabad)