By Matiar Chowdhury:
A significant point not adequately made so far is that Pakistan’s current tussle with Saudi Arabia over convening of a conference to discuss the Kashmir issue has further exposed Pakistan’s isolation, from not just the Muslim world, but also the world community as a whole.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, in his fifth clarification in 15 days, told Al Jazeera TV channel in an interview on September 3, 2020, that “it is not frustration”. The interviewer had asked if it was “because of this anger and frustration that Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi spoke against the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) which had angered the Saudis.
Khan tried to defend Qureshi saying “Yes we want OIC to take a more front role in this whole thing. Yes we did.”
He hastened to add two ‘buts’: “But let me make it clear, Saudi Arabia will always be a friend of Pakistan. But yes we want OIC to take a bigger role in this whole thing.”
Pakistan observers assess that the Qureshi outburst against Riyadh has already cost Islamabad dearly and the minister’s political future may be on the line at some stage as a face-saver for Pakistan.
Putting the current Pak-Saudi tussle in a larger perspective of what the Pakistan-Saudi Arabian relations have always been, Husain Haqqani, former Pakistani envoy to the US, now heading a Washington think tank, writes: “The Saudis do not look kindly upon ultimatums and will be especially offended when it comes from a country that has frequently sought economic bailouts from the Kingdom.
“From helping pay for Pakistan’s first batch of F-16 fighter aircraft in the 1980s to the $6 billion loan that helped Pakistan tide over its balance of payments crisis just two years ago, the Saudis have stood by Pakistan in times of need.”
Haqqni points out that Saudi Arabia “is also a significant employer of expatriate Pakistani labour and a major source of remittances.”
Hinting at close ties that Khan does not enjoy with the Saudi royalty, but his political rivals, Nawaz Sharif and the Bhutto-Zardaris do, Haqqani writes: “Pakistan seems to be having difficulty with understanding some fundamental realities of international relations. The traditional bond between the two countries led current Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al Jubeir to remark in 2007 (according to a leaked WikiLeaks cable) that “We in Saudi Arabia are not observers in Pakistan, we are participants.”
Riyadh is angry that Islamabad is trying to switch horses and align with rival Turkey to desperately push the Kashmir card.
Actually Turkey, whose President Tayip Recep Erdogan wants to back Pakistan to spite Saudi Arabia and emerge as the predominant leader of the Muslim Ummah, And save turkey, none from the Muslim world has supported Pakistani stance.
Everyone seems to be clear of the worthlessness of Islamabad’s Kashmir campaign against India and to push it, Pakistan’s folly of annoying Riyadh that dominates the OIC.
Even Malaysia is quiet, now that Mahathir Mohamad is out of power. The new government has different perceptions and truth be told, it is concerned, as Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan keeps insinuating, trade ties with India. Incidentally, India is the largest buyer of Malaysian palm oil, one of its principal exports.
As for the non-Muslim world community, Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden has moved away from his earlier stance on Kashmir and has shown alacrity in wooing Indian votes. This is helped by his running mate being the partly-Indian Kamala Harris.
The European Union is quiet on Kashmir and the opposition Labour Party line in Britain has faced serious internal differences, especially among the influential Indian-Britons. The powerful Mirpuri lobby is as yet unsure.
Left with no alternative, Khan is pushing his country’s traditional line on Kashmir, despite failure, telling Al Jazeera: “Pakistan had knocked on all doors” and would continue doing so.
This was followed by another traditional stance – hold the gun to one’s temple and threaten the world about Pakistan being a nuclear power. “If this (Kashmir dispute) escalates and if it breaks into a conflict between India and Pakistan, it will have implications for the rest of the world.”
The third, not so new, stance is blaming the failure on Kashmir to trade interests of one and all vis a vis India. Both Khan and Qureshi have in the recent past accused the world community, even fellow-Muslims like the UAE and Qatar, of putting trade with India before the Kashmir campaign. Indeed, Islamabad was livid when the Saudis signed a $ 15 billion pact to set up an oil refinery in India.
Khan reiterated that the reason why certain parts of the world are not responding on the issue, is because they are worried about their commercial interests. “They look upon India as a huge market, and so they are willing to ignore this huge travesty of justice taking place [in the valley].
Haqqani explains this point the best when he writes that while Pak-Saudi trade is “a meagre $3.6 billion, Saudi trade with India has risen to $27 billion and is expanding further.”
By contrast, “Saudis look at Pakistan as a recipient of their assistance, including direct budget support, oil supplied on deferred payment basis, and several hundred thousand jobs for unskilled workers; for them India is a major trading partner.”
Given that “asymmetric reality,” Haqqani says that “successive Pakistani governments have acted humbly with the Kingdom’s leadership. But humility or gratitude run contrary to the core narrative of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s populist government.”
The message to Khan and his country is: you do not look a gift horse in the mouth.
Matiar Chwdhury Journalist and writer, London 15th September 2020.