Less than two weeks after Saudi foreign minister’s visit, Islamabad and Riyadh discussed ‘enhanced bilateral defence collaboration’, including a training exchange programme, during a high-level meeting held on Monday.
The defence talks, held at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, were attended by Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif and Saudi Deputy Defence Minister Prince Salman bin Sultan al Saud.
Salman is the second high-ranking official from Saudi Arabia to visit Pakistan in recent weeks following Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal’s trip earlier this month.
The meeting comes against the backdrop of speculations that Saudi Arabia is seeking enhanced defence ties with Pakistan in the wake of recent developments on the Syria crisis.
A recent report published in the US Foreign Policy magazine claimed that Saudi Arabia, after having lost faith in efforts by the US administration to oust embattled Syrian President Bashar al Assad, has decided to initiate a major effort along with Pakistan to train Syrian rebels.
According to the official statement issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), following the meeting, both sides discussed matters of mutual interest, regional security and enhanced bilateral defence collaboration including training exchange programme.
Commenting on the talks, an official speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed that Saudi Arabia was seeking increased defence cooperation with Pakistan in the wake of regional developments.
However, the official added that it was difficult for Pakistan to commit to any training programme that could have far reaching implications for the country.
He said Pakistan was already fighting a war against extremism on several fronts and any attempt to train Syrian rebels could complicate the situation.
Referring to Pakistan’s stance on the Syrian crises, another official said, “We have to ensure a delicate balance in our relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran.”
Meanwhile, Prince Salman also called on General Rashad Mahmood, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC).
Published in The Express Tribune, January 21st, 2014.