Defying royal request: China helped Pakistan ‘weather the storm’ over Yemen

Published: April 27, 2015
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President Xi assured Islamabad of Beijing’s support if ties with Arab world unravelled. PHOTO: SOUTH ASIAN DAILY

President Xi assured Islamabad of Beijing’s support if ties with Arab world unravelled. PHOTO: SOUTH ASIAN DAILY

ISLAMABAD: Saying ‘no’ to a Saudi request for troops, ships and warplanes for the Yemen military campaign wasn’t easy. The biggest concern the top policymakers had at the time was the potential fallout on Pakistan’s relations with the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia in particular.

Pakistan had always looked up to the Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, whenever it faced international isolation—be it at the time of the nuclear tests in 1998 or imposition of military rules that invited crippling economic sanctions from the West.

Given Pakistan’s dependence on the Gulf states, turning down the Saudi request for military support for its campaign against Houthi rebels was fraught with the risk of losing a ‘trusted ally’, said two key officials during informal chat about the crucial foreign policy step.

During a flurry of high-level huddles prior to the key decision, the country’s civil and military leadership had candid discussion on the possible consequences of saying ‘no’ to the Saudi monarch with whom Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also has ‘personal relationship’.

But what really helped Pakistan ‘weather the storm’ was a Chinese assurance of economic investment and assistance to the tune no Arab country —let alone Saudi Arabia—could match, said one official.

The officials, who requested not to be identified, said the unveiling of $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor by President Xi Xinping was one of the factors that helped Islamabad to persevere despite immense pressure from Riyadh even after a unanimous resolution of parliament.

An unusual warning from the UAE minister of state for foreign affairs of a ‘heavy price’ Pakistan might have to pay for not joining the military coalition against the Houthis was a clear sign that the Arab rulers were unhappy with Pakistani parliament’s decision.

The officials said Saudi Arabia privately conveyed not only its annoyance but also the possible consequences. But in the middle of the unprecedented hiccup between Pakistan and the Gulf states, the Chinese leader traveled to Islamabad.

Although his visit was scheduled months before the Saudi-led coalition launched air strikes against the Yemeni rebels, it assumed greater significance as Pakistan’s key Arab allies were showing disquiet.

One official disclosed that the Yemen conflict and Islamabad’s possible role was discussed between the Chinese president and the Pakistani authorities. The Pakistani interlocutors also raised with the Chinese president the possible fallout of ‘defying’ the Saudi demand.

According to officials, President Xi assured Pakistan that his country would stand behind Islamabad in the event of unraveling of its ties with the Arab world.

The Chinese leader even suggested Pakistan realised its true potential and pointed out that if Islamabad maintained unity in their ranks and implemented the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, then it would not have to look up to outside help either from the West or Arab countries.

“There were other factors too but the assurance and friendly advice from the Chinese president really helped us to face the blowback of the parliamentary decision,” said another official.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 27th, 2015. 

Reader Comments (36)

  • Frank
    Apr 27, 2015 - 9:45AM

    So rather than pay back the debt of gratitude we owed the Arab countries for help against crippling western sanctions, we tried to wiggle out of our obligations in our friend’s time of need by finding another sugar daddy? What a worthless, characterless and ungrateful people we are!Recommend

  • woody
    Apr 27, 2015 - 9:46AM

    Your suppose to be close allies with Saudi Arabia and Chinese investment should play no part in your decision whether to support them. The fact that it apparently did makes it clear that your relationship with Saudi Arabia has more to do with money than friendship. Pakistan has a reputation for being duplicitous and I fear you short list of friends is going to get shorter.Recommend

  • Ahmad
    Apr 27, 2015 - 9:57AM

    Smart policy, good job!Recommend

  • Naasir
    Apr 27, 2015 - 10:14AM

    Pakistan has no business to be fighting in Yemen so for a change, a good decision was made. Recommend

  • Juggernaut
    Apr 27, 2015 - 10:14AM

    Pakistan require chinese help everywhere, any country should not be dependent on one country for all support…this could possibly disastrous because as a country pakistan will loose all bargaining to china and chinese will treat you as slaves.Recommend

  • Anoni
    Apr 27, 2015 - 10:31AM

    That was the right policy and this news has no relevance.

    When some one close to you is inflicting a non healing wound you don’t assist them but resist them so that they don’t harm themselves.

    Instead of getting involved into a fight that had a sectarian edge . The decision by Pakistan authority held together the thin line which held off a wider conflict among the muslim nation.

    Yet on the same note it was made clear that we guarding them and in case of any attack on their soil will jump in. Recommend

  • Amer
    Apr 27, 2015 - 10:33AM

    @woody:
    @Frank:
    Childish comments, maybe write your real names when you post these comments.
    Pakistan should have attacked another Muslim country along with the Arabs?

    Pakistan did the absolute right thing in terms of its own interests and foreign policy. The decision by parliament was a very wise one and would have long term benefits. The advice of the Chinese President should really be appreciated and we should make sure we reach our true potential rather then getting involved in another war. We can’t be an Army for hire. Recommend

  • Raj - USA
    Apr 27, 2015 - 10:37AM

    From day one, I have been commenting in ET that Pakistan can chose either to get involved in the Yemen war along with the Saudis or get the Chinese investments. No country, including China will make any investments if Pakistan is bent on bringing a sectarian and never ending war to its territory. I will be happy if Pakistan makes the right choice of going for the Chinese investments which will be good not just for Pakistan but for the entire region, including India. It will benefit India because, Pakistan will be forced to abandon its policies of supporting terrorist and sectarian forces in its land. Both India and Pakistan can hold on to the Kashmir region that they now have in their control and settle the Kashmir issue by making LoC the permanent border. It will free India from having to devote much of its resources in military spending and unleash it growth potential. China is not going to allow Pakistan to join saudis in their war which they are bent on making it sectarian. Only reason saudis want Pakistan to join them in their war is to make sure that Pakistan does not join the side of Iran. Recommend

  • satender
    Apr 27, 2015 - 10:44AM

    Go for it. China new east India company for Pakistan. Recommend

  • Toba Alu
    Apr 27, 2015 - 10:50AM

    @Frank:
    I beg to disagree, actually one of Pakistan’s few smart foreign policy decisions ever made. Why joining a war that a friend started for the wrong reasons. If I owe a friend something I return the dues but I will never offer my sons as tank meat. Btw just ask yourself KAS is one of the best funded war machines in the world (no 3) with an army of over 440,000 of which 125,000 are to suppress domestic upheavals. That says enough about your friend.Recommend

  • KL
    Apr 27, 2015 - 10:56AM

    It may be a coincidence that the timing of Chinese President came amid confusion on Yemen crisis but $46 billion infrasturcutre investments in 15 years is no match of what 30 million Pakistanis benefit from the home remittance of $ 12 billion per annum (or $ 180 billion in 15 years) from the Arab Gulf countires. If we don’t help our Saudi brothers, the depression of future loss or decline in home remittance will wipe out all the economic benefits of Chinese investments in Pakistan. Government, especially the Pakistan Army must think seriously to review its policy and help KSA with open heart and mind. Recommend

  • thomas
    Apr 27, 2015 - 10:57AM

    Pakistan made a wise decision regarding yemen conflict. because Saudi Arabia under pressure from US and Isreal agencies to counter Iran influence. so Saudi have no option but go for it. there are some Indian central intelligence agencies working with US counterpart and influencing Suadi military leaders on yemen war. the supprising thing is that indian agencies gave command to US officials that handling Saudi’s that they should delay war campaign for at least two and must bring pakistan troops there. but this the time where the Chinese president visiting Pakistan for historic deal that is supprising anyway. Recommend

  • expatriot
    Apr 27, 2015 - 11:14AM

    The sheiks have been treating Pakistan as their slave, there have been no friendships involved. They must have felt insulted about a slave disrespecting their orders. Our people keep harking on how we have been helped by these monarchs in the time of need, but they have been, in their minds, keeping Pakistan just for times like these, attacking other countries on their behalf. When was the last time they raised a voice for Pakistan against its enemies at any forum! !?Recommend

  • rashid khan
    Apr 27, 2015 - 11:17AM

    Why don’t you’ll get it in your heads, the Arabs state i.e. Saudia and UAE including the other oil soaked nations are nobody’s friends. They are intoxicated by their oil wealth and can’t reason rationally. Saudi’s want to mimic the yanks and play big boy in the region without thinking things out. They believe that their money will get them through everything, Just recently one of their billionaire prince promised to give each Saudi fighter pilot (there are 100) a Bentley car, for bombing Yemeni civilians.
    Pakistan has more to loose than these chaps if the nation fell into brotherly garbage.
    I agree there are almost a million Pakistani workers in these countries, maybe more, but these people are working for their living, in many cases, being exploited and mistreated by these so called lip servicing brothers.
    Imagine the gall of the UAE foreign minister threatening Pakistan in international media, Utter arrogance and shameful display of the power of wealth. In a way Pakistan had it coming. Each year the country sells it soul to these Arab wastrel when it violates all international laws and treaties and allocates areas exclusively to their royals to and do as they please. Its own inhabitants are prosecuted for hunting these threatened species of birds but not the Arab.
    Who says Pakistan is an independent sovereign state. Far from it.
    Please start thinking Pakistan and Pakistan only. Take a leaf from the Chinese way of addressing national issues.
    We need to become independent in mind and soul too.Recommend

  • AJ
    Apr 27, 2015 - 11:18AM

    The crack has begun. I visited Kuwait last week, where people are strong supporter of KSA and have turned immensily anti-Pakistani due to our non participation in Yemen war. They call us “Selfish Pakistanis”. The Indian lobby has started palying its active role to overthrow Pakistani employees, who will perhaps be faced with tough choice of returning back home when their work visas expire in the future. Recommend

  • rashid khan
    Apr 27, 2015 - 11:19AM

    Why don’t you’ll get it in your heads, the Arabs state i.e. Saudia and UAE including the other oil soaked nations are nobody’s friends. They are intoxicated by their oil wealth and can’t reason rationally. Saudi’s want to mimic the yanks and play big boy in the region without thinking things out. They believe that their money will get them through everything, Just recently one of their billionaire prince promised to give each Saudi fighter pilot (there are 100) a Bentley car, for bombing Yemeni civilians. Gives you an idea how they view war.
    Pakistan has more to loose than these chaps if the nation fell into brotherly garbage.
    I agree there are almost a million Pakistani workers in these countries, maybe more, but these people are working for their living, in many cases, being exploited and mistreated by these so called lip servicing brothers.
    Imagine the gall of the UAE foreign minister threatening Pakistan in international media, Utter arrogance and shameful display of the power of wealth. In a way Pakistan had it coming. Each year the country sells it soul to these Arab wastrel when it violates all international laws and treaties and allocates areas exclusively to their royals to and do as they please. Its own inhabitants are prosecuted for hunting these threatened species of birds but not the Arab.
    Who says Pakistan is an independent sovereign state. Far from it.
    Please start thinking Pakistan and Pakistan only. Take a leaf from the Chinese way of addressing national issues.
    We need to become independent in mind and soul too.Recommend

  • Ayesha
    Apr 27, 2015 - 11:31AM

    Most of the anti KSA viewss are expressed, perhaps by shias. With a 20% shia population in Pakistan, we should not become hostage to a sect which supports Iran and Houtis. Shias occupy media and hold most of the professional jobs in Pakistan. Time to face the reality. Succes comes when you invite trouble and sort it out to your benefit. With some painful sacrifice in joining Yemen war, Pakistan can guarantee a long term relationalship and finnancial benefits from the Gulf countires. Simply watching the game as a bystander will make us like a mediocre Iran.Recommend

  • Amir
    Apr 27, 2015 - 11:37AM

    China wants Pakistan to pick up fights with US and Middle east so that Pakistan will be solely dependent on China. Then when China wants Pakistan to repay its part, Pakistan will have nobody to run to. The Chinese are clever, Pakistan is falling into their trap.Recommend

  • IGK
    Apr 27, 2015 - 11:49AM

    Gulf monarchies are depending on Pakistan to keep their kingdoms intact today – Its time they treat Pakistan with respect & not as their chowkidars in the futureRecommend

  • pakistani
    Apr 27, 2015 - 11:49AM

    @satender:
    lol at you indian.Recommend

  • Sajid Khan
    Apr 27, 2015 - 1:13PM

    Some friendship which in return for cash wants friends to lay down their life as cannon fodder. No, Pak Parliament has spoken for Paki public. If Arabs don’t appreciate democratic values they can get stuffed. And put an end to their “privilege” to slaughter the endangered Houbara bustard. The Chinese connection is fortuitous but separate from the sectarian onslaught these Arabs want. Bombs & missiles are bought in vast quantities in exchange for oil. But fight hand to hand? Oh no cannot we pay others to do that, say these Arabs. Stuff them.Recommend

  • Safar Shah
    Apr 27, 2015 - 1:55PM

    Thank you China, for standing by Pakistan when we needed you. Pakistan made the right decision of not getting involved in a useless sectarian conflict and Chinese support is much appreciated. Recommend

  • Rumormonger
    Apr 27, 2015 - 1:58PM

    @AJ:
    Probably the Kuwaitis have forgotten how the Pak Airforce airmen shuttled their royal family out of Kuwait when Iraq attacked them. As for the Indian lobby, they are always active. With so many Indians already in S and Kuwait, I wonder why the KSA rulers did not ask India to help them out.Recommend

  • Mohammad Mirza
    Apr 27, 2015 - 3:50PM

    @Frank: Come on, each country looks after its interest, what is wrong when Pakistan chooses it so. By the way, no special treatment for Pakistanis in KSA, UAE etc. They work hard for their earning, would you work in 50 degree C for your living? They do.Recommend

  • Ammar
    Apr 27, 2015 - 5:37PM

    We will never be considered a respectable state until we stop being finding these sugar daddies. Simple. Cooperate with everybody. Trade. Build and be self-confident over your interestsRecommend

  • das
    Apr 27, 2015 - 5:45PM

    A good call by Pakistan as its citizens would have been further sucked into ongoing shia-sunni conflict leading to further deterioration in economy. As an indian whose ancestors are from Datta Kher region, I hope that Pakistan becomes a peaceful progressive and economically strong. It will be good for the region. So my chosing Chinese money for development over Saudi money for Wahhabism Pakistan has hopefully turned from religiosity to development, hopefully!Recommend

  • Aarij Siddiqui
    Apr 27, 2015 - 6:51PM

    @Frank:
    this is how its done
    take what u need and leave
    u dont own anyone anything
    how many times we did favours to countries that didnt have our best interest in their hearts grow upRecommend

  • Aarij Siddiqui
    Apr 27, 2015 - 6:52PM

    @woody:
    oooooohRecommend

  • tanvir afgan
    Apr 27, 2015 - 6:53PM

    Pakistan is not for hire nor are a mercenary country. We fight for our country and budies and the honour of our regiment and service.Recommend

  • Shahg
    Apr 27, 2015 - 7:11PM

    @woody:
    Nice try Indian….you should send your forces, since you are complaining so much…lets see you do it, you are the real duplicitous people.Recommend

  • Shahg
    Apr 27, 2015 - 7:14PM

    @KL:
    Dont worry God gives, just do the right thing….let all those workers return from gulf states and instead get involved in all the China projects, we will need all the manpower we can get. Nothing better than highly trained ex pats from Arab states, build your own nation, not gulf nations.Recommend

  • Shahg
    Apr 27, 2015 - 7:21PM

    We should not be asking for any help, our policies are wrong, it is Pakistan with 180 million people that has a lot to offer, a huge market, it never put the right policies in place, like gulf countries who have nothing but oil, we have fertile land, deserts, mountains, lakes, rivers, why should we need aid? we have never realized our potential, but now finally we have leaders who have realized what needs to be done…and with Chinese cooperation we will do it, China is not giving aid, it is investing in Pakistan, and thats how it should always be done.

    The USA gives aid, they do it deliberately, to control our leaders, because they know the aid goes to a few leaders and the nation does not benefit, but they are now learning the unintended consequences of fooling nations, there will be terrorism when people are poor, they can easily be used by groups offering cash when there are no jobs.

    China is doing it smart, its a win win for everyone, china gains a very important passage and will help develop their western regions, and Pakistan will generate jobs for millions, draining the terror swamps of cheap manpower.Recommend

  • indian
    Apr 27, 2015 - 7:23PM

    @Rumormonger:
    We don’t live on Saudi aid. That’s the difference.Recommend

  • schumaila
    Apr 27, 2015 - 8:10PM

    Indians on Pakistani news articles are appreciating Pakistan for refusing Saudi’s request whereas gulf newspapers’s articles they are commenting to incite Arabs against Pakistan that its nobody’s friend. gulf countries should not relay on Pakistan in need of our. Please have some senses before you are systematically isolated of your few friends. I hope Pakistan realize its friends and foes. There are thousands of ways to refuse not the one adopted in Pakistan parliament and the way Pakistanis are commenting here and there on articles against Gulf countries. Recommend

  • Engager
    Apr 27, 2015 - 10:36PM

    What I don’t understand is the fact that even KSA’s own forces, let alone the rest of GCC have not been deployed in Yemen. KSA’s forces are securing their border as ever while other GCC countries have not asked a single soldier to take action. How is Pakistan bad?

    As far the air raids, Pakistan was the first country who flew KSA’s fighter jets back in 1969 to bomb and thwart Hothi aggression against KSA’s territory. Yes far before any GCC country of this day can think of. How do you know that the air raids that are being condicted now do not have Pakistani pilots on board? Don’t forget more than a thousand personnel of Pakistan armed forces are stationed in KSA and you can’t overlook the possibilities of combat roles especially pilots.

    It’s not how Pakistan responded but it is how GCC dragged Pakistan in without consultation and apparently took them for granted? Probably wanted Pakistanis to fight inside Yemen or what? I can’t comprehend. Recommend

  • Khan
    Apr 29, 2015 - 7:38AM

    @Frank:
    Seriously ? Is this the train of thought how people decide their nations reply. For the record we do not owe any one anything. The friendship of these so called friends is as shallow as their threats ! Recommend

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