Saudi Arabia ‘backing Pakistan’s ex-army chief to replace Imran Khan’: reports

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Riyadh and Islamabad have traditionally enjoyed a close alliance, however relations have soured over the Kashmir crisis.

A rift between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia has led Riyadh to groom the South Asian state’s former army general to replace Prime Minister Imran Khan, according to local media reports.

Pakistani and Indian media reports say General Raheel Sharif, the commander of the Saudi-led Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT), is Riyadh’s preferred candidate.

Riyadh and Islamabad have traditionally enjoyed a close alliance, however relations have soured over the Kashmir crisis, with Pakistan appearing to accuse the kingdom of inaction over the matter.

Since last August, Pakistan has pushed for the Saudi-led Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to take action over India’s annexation of areas of the disputed territory. In particular, it has urged for a meeting of OIC foreign ministers, with limited success.

Relations soured further when Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi earlier this month warned that Pakistan may seek action outside of the Riyadh-led body.

Saudi Arabia abruptly ended a $6.2 billion loan and oil supply deal to Pakistan over the criticism, allegedly forcing Islamabad to repay $1 billion already disbursed.

To ease the tensions, Pakistan dispatched Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant-General Qamar Javed Bajwa to Riyadh on August 17, however downplayed the visit as “routine”. Just days after the meeting, Pakistan’s foreign ministry issued a statement praising the OIC for its response to the Kashmir crisis.

Last week, Prime Minister Khan himself spoke out to deny a rift between the allies, calling the speculation “totally false”.

“Our relations are very good. We are constantly in touch,” Khan said on the Dunya News television channel.

“On the Kashmir issue, there is a view that OIC [the Saudi-led Organisation of Islamic Cooperation] should have stepped forward,” he added. “Saudi has its own foreign policy. We shouldn’t think that because we want something Saudi will do just that.”


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