The long-term strategic relationship between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are facing enormous challenges, the Non-Resident Fellow at the Centre for Global Policy, Imtiaz Ali, has warned.
In an article published on the centre’s website, Ali ruled out that bilateral relations between Riyadh and Islamabad could witness a serious breakdown, however, he explained that “geostrategic shifts and shifting foreign policy priorities” will continue to put Riyadh and Islamabad at odds with each other, although each prefers the opposite.
Ali said the “United States must factor in this drift between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan as it increasingly relies on regional players to do the heavy lifting in security matters for both the Middle East and South Asia.”
According to the article, the most recent diplomatic row came after the Pakistani Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, publicly criticised the kingdom for not extending “support over the Kashmir dispute between Islamabad and New Delhi” indicating a conflict of interest and change of national priorities for the two close allies.
Moreover, the article explained that senior Pakistani diplomats have recently reflected deep frustration with the Saudi response to the Kashmir dispute since 5 August 2019, when India revoked the Muslim-majority region’s autonomous status.
However, Ali said the recent diplomatic row is unlikely to disrupt or even worsen bilateral ties because of the grave implications for both sides as well as for the region beset by rivalries, sectarian conflict, and geopolitical tug of war.
Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have historically had strong bilateral relations in the financial, trade and military sectors, making the increased tensions between the two countries a concern for many and particularly for Pakistan, which has been undergoing a financial crisis over the past few years and which saw the kingdom as a primary ally to help bail it out.
This is not the first time such tension was witnessed, though, as Pakistan was pressured by Saudi Arabia to skip the attendance of a major summit on the issues facing the Muslim world in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur in December last year due to the presence of the kingdom’s rivals, Iran and Turkey. Pakistan’s lack of attendance, seen as a challenge to Saudi Arabia’s influence in the Muslim world, caused many to see Islamabad as being subservient to Riyadh.