Pak-Saudi relations: Friends with benefits

Published: January 9, 2016
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After Pakistani parliament regretted participation in the multinational, armed operation against foreign-backed Houthi militias in Yemen last year, many speculated this would cause irrevocable damage to Pak-Saudi relations. However, with Pakistan’s inclusion in the Saudi-led anti-terror alliance fears subsided and have completely evaporated with Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Adel bin Ahmed al Jubeir’s recent visit to Islamabad on Thursday.

As for the 34-nation alliance, Riyadh has not sought Islamabad’s military assets yet and seems to be working to evolve a coalition of the likeminded against extremists and terrorist. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have always reiterated that threat to sovereignty of one will be deemed as danger to the other and the reason why this alliance is unshakable is because the two nations have a lot to gain by standing together.

Saudi defence minister to visit Islamabad tomorrow

A history of goodwill

Unlike what appears in news columns and social media campaigns, Islamabad-Riyadh relations neither started after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan nor were a knee-jerk reaction to Iran’s blood-soaked revolution. Similarly, the nature of bilateral relations is not dictated by the richer or more powerful partner.

Historically, it was in April 1940 when the crown prince Saud bin Abdul Aziz visited Karachi and was warmly welcomed by leaders of the Muslim League, including MAH Ispahani, MA Maniar and Karim Bhai Ibrahim, that laid the foundation of Pak-Saudi relations. The Crown Prince was accompanied by a large delegation, including his five brothers, Faisal, Saad, Fahd, Mansoor and Abdullah. There is, however, no public record of the dignitaries’ meeting with Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

But when Bengal suffered severe famine in 1943, Saudis responded to Jinnah’s appeal for humanitarian assistance. King Abdul Aziz sent the first foreign donation amounting to £10,000. In 1946, Jinnah sent the Pakistan movement delegation led by Mirza Abol Hasan Ispahani, including Begum Jahanara Shah Nawaz, to the United Nations. While the Indian National Congress team was obstructing Muslim League envoys’ engagements, Prince Faisal Ibn Abdul Aziz, who was leading the Saudi delegation, came to their rescue. Saudi Arabia invited Ispahani and his colleagues to the official reception in honour of all other UN delegations at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Prince Faisal then introduced the Pakistan Movement members to other delegates, where they explained their struggle for a separate homeland.

Pakistan’s inclusion in Saudi alliance sparks confusion

After the creation of Pakistan, Arab merchants settled in Mumbai and Calcutta migrated to Pakistan, especially Karachi. In 1954, King Saud took Karachi – then the capital of Pakistan – by storm naming Saudabad town in his name after he laid the foundation stone for the housing scheme. King Faisal was equally revered by the Pakistanis with the government naming a key Karachi artery, Shahrah-e-Faisal, a vital airbase after him. Lyallpur, a city in central Punjab, was also named in his honour. This was a major success of Saudi’s formal and public diplomacy in a non-Arabic speaking Muslim nation.

It was three years after the 1965 war when Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, the then Saudi Minister of Defence and Aviation, visited Pakistan that a bilateral defence cooperation protocol was formalised.

During the 1970s, Saudi leadership responded to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s request for financial assistance in order to respond to India’s nuclear ambitions after the first Pokhran test. An unnamed official was quoted by the press saying Bhutto could solicit $500 million, valued at about $2.5 billion today, from Arab friends. After Saudi Arabia, Libya was the other key supporter of Pakistan’s deterrence capability.

Rethinking Pak-Saudi relations

Over a decade later, in 1982, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia signed another military protocol, which entitles the kingdom to seek Pakistani troops. But like most defence agreements (including the one signed between India and Iran in 2002), the details of Islamabad-Riyadh military pacts have been closely guarded.

A profitable partnership

After the western sanction following 1998 nuclear tests, Saudi Arabia provided 50,000 barrels of oil per day to Pakistan for a year; amounting to about one-sixth of Pakistan’s total oil imports on deferred payment. Later, the Saudis branded the outstanding payment as a gift in times of need. Furthermore, over two million Pakistanis employed in Saudi Arabia send home remittances amounting to nearly four billion annually. The kingdom is the largest market of the Pakistani manpower worldwide, with its embassy in Islamabad issuing 30,000 visas every month.

Pakistan welcomes Saudi ‘anti-terror’ coalition

It has never been a one-way relationship though. Pakistan has always stood by the Arab nation in times of war and peace and they have always reciprocated in kind. Riyadh recently turned down Indian premier Modi’s proposal for a defence pact when he last visited the kingdom. The recent visit by Saudi Foreign Minister shows that Riyadh has understood Pakistani constraint of sending troops to another Muslim country. Islamabad, on the other hand, can never afford to lose strategic, time-tested allies, which are already not many.

Naveed Ahmad is a Pakistani investigative journalist and academic with extensive reporting experience in the Middle East. He is based in Doha and Istanbul. He tweets @naveed360

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Reader Comments (13)

  • Raj - USA
    Jan 9, 2016 - 12:06PM

    What a title !!!!!!! “Pak-Saudi relations: Friends with benefits”……. sounds something like ad’s we see on adult dating web sites.

    Arabs have been paying money to Pakistan and they are also been giving away barrels of oil to Pakistan. In the end Pakistan is bending to their wishes and getting screwed by the arabs !!!!!!Recommend

  • Dawood
    Jan 9, 2016 - 12:28PM

    Pakistan isn’t a state of a family. You even don’t know why Pakistan was came into being, to protect the monarchies? If so then you have no right to raise voice for Burma n Kashmir. You people set stanadards based on money you receive then what is a difference in Naveed Ahmed thoughts n a prostitute. Humanity, rights and freedom has no value in your eyes. If a monarchy is ruining all human values we will make them friend because they pay us. Be mature, you’re are theological Islamic state with belief in values. Listen Molana Noorani speech about these King Kongs of Emirates n Saudia.Recommend

  • Jan 9, 2016 - 1:24PM

    Being Neutral on Yemen war is a great decision and we should still stand on it. Because it’s Saudi’s aggression, not a sectarian or issue of Muslims dignity. Recommend

  • Hasan
    Jan 9, 2016 - 4:43PM

    Very nice article! Young Pakistanis and thankless TV anchors need to reminded time and again these historic bonds of friendship with KSA. Also in many occasion KSA helped Pakistan to effectively communicate with the USA at times when we were heading for dead logs.Recommend

  • hashim
    Jan 9, 2016 - 5:09PM

    nice analysis.thanksRecommend

  • Ahmad Mansoor
    Jan 9, 2016 - 11:05PM

    @Kami, if Taliban take over Islamabad (God forbid), that is a coup or invasion but a similar militia called Houthis can take over Yemen’s capital. That will be legitimate for you. Those acting against the foreign-armed militia will be agressors? What are you smoking these days? Seriously!Recommend

  • abdullah khan
    Jan 9, 2016 - 11:50PM

    The problem is not only KSA or Arab, The ruler of Iran are also problematic, Both regime’s made their countries prison for their citizens both are not legitimate governments But after passdari revolution the Iran mentality changed and now consider them the leader of all Shia sect through out the world, but when sunni of Iran complain against the hardship created by passdaran, they are killing them. I am neither sunny nor Shia. Is this justice?Recommend

  • NHA
    Jan 10, 2016 - 3:01AM

    While situations like this are challenges, they also offer opportunities. A Muslim owned and Muslim Lead effort against terrorism & extremism is a welcome , rather most welcome, move .Muslim countries have the resources and are able to adress this nuisance.

    This was a gap and outside players alwyas came to fill it and in the process messed up the place. Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria is a telling example.

    Hats off to Saudi initiative to take lead and put together an arrangement and mechanism to address internal problems of Muslim countries. This will slowly evolve into Muslim capacity to handle such issues .

    Pakistan has the capacity to make contribution and should NOT shy away from being part of the effort. Recommend

  • NHA
    Jan 10, 2016 - 3:09AM

    @Raj – USA: What I have seen from your comments on various topics is that you are either planted to encourage anti-Pakistan in particular and anti-Muslim sentiment in general or you are born anarchist. The arguments and logic you produce is non-sensical and open prejudice.

    In the present case as well , you could not hide your anti -Pak stance. Does not make difference, but I thought to share this with you. Recommend

  • GBians
    Jan 10, 2016 - 8:23AM

    Pakistan is a state of a powerful nuclear power and we dont need to take any side of Arab or Ajam. this is a war of sudia and iran and we should be neutral in all aspect. the theory of assistance linked by the author show one sided. if Suida help Pakistan then pakistan also help sudias in many occasion. like Pakistan has sent his troops in Iraq Kuwait war to protect kingdon of Sudia.

    so in the deep interest of Pakistan and the role and power we have Pakistan should be stand on his neutralism policy in regional conflicts.Recommend

  • Anwar Anees
    Jan 10, 2016 - 1:57PM

    Very nicely analyses the existing issue with a fruitful flashback to relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Pakistan has been very cordial and dedicated to this relation. I wish middle east problems do not invade Pakistan and I wish this Saudi coalition and visit do not override Pakistan’s priorities of anti terror stance and economic revival. I hope this Saudi offer comes with no strings attached. Saudi problem is not a Muslim issue against the West so Pakistan should not be stretched for defending Saudi royal interests.Recommend

  • Anonymous
    Jan 10, 2016 - 6:59PM

    Is this an article on Express Tribune? Let me check again, how come they are publishing something in favor of KSA?Recommend

  • syed & syed
    Jan 12, 2016 - 4:12AM

    Dear Readers. Since Abdul Aziz much water have flowed. Present rulers of SA are a different breed of rulers. They are creating a rift between Islam and Wahbism. There aim is to annihilate all so Called Islamic states with the support of USA and IsraelRecommend

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