The historical alliance between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan looks to be under severe strain in the shifting sand of Middle Eastern politics. Earlier this week, Islamabad’s effort to repair relations with Riyadh was snubbed by Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman. The de facto ruler of the kingdom refused to meet with Army Chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, who was in the Gulf state to mend ties between the two countries.
Meanwhile, the man who was at the centre of the row, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, dashed off to China immediately after Bajawa was denied an audience with Bin Salman in what appears to be a mission to cement Beijing’s support over major foreign policy concerns of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government.
“I am leaving on a very important visit to China,” Qureshi is reported saying in a video message ahead of his departure to China. “I had a discussion with the prime minister regarding this visit yesterday. My delegation will represent the stance of the political and military leadership of the country. I am hopeful that my meeting with Foreign Minister Wang will prove to be beneficial for both countries.”
Amongst the issues that are slated to be discussed by the Chinese and Pakistani foreign ministers at a meeting at the island resort of Hainan, is the progress of the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Islamabad’s request for a $1 billion loan. India’s occupation of Kashmir is also expected to be a topic of discussion.
It also turns out that while Bajwa was left to mend relations with Riyadh, Qureshi held a meeting with Qatar’s ambassador at the same time.
While all this may suggest a shifting of alliance, Pakistan has dismissed speculations over a rift with Riyadh with Khan insisting that such claims were “completely baseless”.
Nevertheless, there is no denying that the two countries do not see eye to eye on a number of issues, least of all Pakistan’s growing ties with Turkey. The Saudis have been wary of any initiative that would allow for the creation of a block made up of Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia and Iran.
The Saudis reacted furiously to comments by Qureshi over a week ago. The foreign minister insisted that the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), dominated largely by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab states, needed greater leadership on the issue of India occupied Kashmir.
Riyadh responded to Qureshi’s minor reproach by terminating its loan and oil supply to Pakistan. The Saudis are also threatening to cancel their investment in Gwadar Port, which is strategically located in the south-western part of Pakistan near the Gulf of Oman.