Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar is expected to travel to Saudi Arabia soon after Riyadh voiced concerns over Pakistan’s rapidly growing economic and trade ties with neighbouring Tehran.
According to diplomatic sources, Saudi Arabia, on behalf of the United States, is pushing Islamabad to abandon its plan for importing natural gas from Iran.
Riyadh is also believed to be concerned over a recent move by Tehran offering crude oil to Pakistan on long-term deferred payments.
Tehran is reaching out to Islamabad in an effort to dispel the impression that it is facing international isolation in the wake of US economic sanctions over its controversial nuclear program.
It has not only offered to fund the Pakistani side of the pipeline but is also willing to support a number of other projects to help the country meet its energy requirements.
Pakistan, however, is under tremendous pressure from the US and Saudi Arabia. Recently, President Asif Ali Zardari delayed a scheduled trip to Iran.
However, a foreign ministry official said President Zardari would visit Tehran and the government has no plans to abandon the Iran pipeline project.
Pakistan’s reluctance to bow to pressure has compelled Saudi Arabia to invite Foreign Minister Khar for urgent talks. Saudi Ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Aziz bin Ibrahim bin Salih Al Ghadeer extended an invitation to Khar on Wednesday to visit the kingdom at the earliest, according to a foreign ministry spokesperson.
In a meeting with the Saudi envoy, the foreign minister accepted the invitation and hoped her visit would further enhance ‘exemplary relations between the two brotherly countries.’
During her visit, she will hold formal talks with her Saudi counterpart, Prince Saud Al Faisal bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud. Though the agenda of the proposed visit has not been made public, sources said discussions would focus on recent developments related to the growing ties between Iran and Pakistan.
Sources said Saudi Arabia might offer Pakistan alternative options to meet its growing energy demands in return for pulling out of the Iran gas pipeline.
However, another official pointed out that Khar’s visit was also part of efforts by regional countries to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.
Like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia also has a pivotal role in brokering a peace deal in Afghanistan. According to the roadmap recently unveiled by the Afghan High Peace Council, Riyadh is likely to host talks between the Taliban and Afghan government for the peace deal.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 20th, 2012.