In the backdrop of the current political uprisings in the Arab world, Pakistan has decided to play a significant role in the region by supporting Saudi Arabia, sources told The Express Tribune.
The decision came following a string of meetings that Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, special emissary of the Saudi king, had with the Pakistani leadership over the weekend.
The Saudi royal family scion met the top political and military leaders, among them President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
Prince Bandar’s whirlwind tour came as mass protests are sweeping across most of the Gulf and Middle Eastern countries. Though there is no immediate threat of an uprising against the Saudi rulers, the situation in neighbouring Bahrain is a cause for serious concern.
In his interaction with Premier Gilani, the Saudi prince indicated that the oil-rich kingdom would extend meaningful support to Pakistan to improve its ailing economy, sources told The Express Tribune on Sunday.
Cash-strapped Islamabad has been asking Riyadh for oil on deferred payment for quite some time now.
Prince Bandar is said to have assured Islamabad of its help to address its immediate oil needs. He also reaffirmed that the kingdom would always stand by Pakistan to confront any challenge and support any initiative to expand bilateral ties.
According to sources in the Foreign Office, the Saudi move to seek help from Pakistan had a tacit endorsement from the United States whose forces are stationed in Bahrain. The US 5th fleet is stationed in Bahrain under an agreement reached between the two countries 15 years ago.
“The United States does not consider Saudi security forces’ entry into Bahrain as an invasion,” the White House said on Monday.
Riyadh sent about 1,000 troops into Bahrain to protect government facilities after protesters overran police and blocked roads.
Premier Gilani told Prince Bandar, who is also secretary-general of the Saudi National Security Council, that his country supports the Saudi stance in the Gulf and the Middle East and would stand by Riyadh for regional peace.
The prince briefed the prime minister on the Saudi perception of the situation in the Gulf and the Middle East.
Sources said that the main purpose of Prince Bandar’s visit was to evaluate Islamabad’s viewpoint on the rapidly changing political situation in the Arab world, particularly on the alarming situation in Bahrain, which borders Saudi Arabia.
In 1991, Riyadh was disappointed by Pakistan’s attitude towards the Gulf War when the then army chief Gen Aslam Beg had publicly opposed the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s decision of sending army and air force units to Saudi Arabia on the call of the kingdom.
Faced with the threat of a direct attack from Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussien’s forces, the Saudi authorities were further disappointed when Gen Beg agreed to send only 5,000 troops after a long delay and that too under strict conditions.
It took Islamabad several years to win back the trust of Riyadh.
The Saudis kept referring to this ‘betrayal’ during their talks with Islamabad on all forums, a former diplomat, who has served in Riyadh, told The Express Tribune.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2011.