As Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif departed on Wednesday on a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, reports suggest that Riyadh is set to press the premier to boost the number of Pakistani troops in the Kingdom to fight militants, including the Islamic State.
However, as per a report published in Gulf News, Islamabad is cautious about broadening its security relationship with Riyadh.
“There is uncertainty in the Middle East as Saudi Arabia deals with the wider Islamic State-related challenge,” a former national security adviser to Nawaz, Mahmoud Durrani said.
“Pakistan has to be careful to avoid getting embroiled in a relationship with the Saudis which only exposes us to new controversies.”
Riyadh is concerned about Islamic State, which has taken over large swathes of land in Iraq and Syria, seeking to target the kingdom.
“The Saudis are very keen to boost their security apparatus, and Pakistan as a friend with a history of services to the kingdom is of great interest,” a western diplomat said.
Similar to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia faces a militant threat.
However, the two countries face challenges in their bilateral relations as the simmering issue of foreign funding to Madrassahs topped an agenda of the National Action Plan to wipe out terrorism.
After nearly a year-long denial, authorities in the Punjab government finally admitted that some 17 Muslim and non-Muslim countries were contributing hundreds of millions of rupees to around 1,000 religious seminaries in the province.
The interior ministry in its written reply to the committee informed the lawmakers the names of the countries and the funds they contributed to madrassas in Pakistan, which included: Qatar Rs198m, Kuwait Rs56m, Saudi Arabia Rs42m, Dubai Rs11m, the Netherlands Rs2.5m, United States Rs0.7m, Hong Kong Rs0.1m, Kuwait Rs0.9m and Bahrain Rs1.8m.
The countries’ close relationship has been built on common security interests dating back to the 1970s, when the Saudi oil boom created employment for a large number of Pakistanis.
“In the 1980s the Saudis were keen to keep Pakistani troops as this helped counter the Iranian threat,” says one former Pakistani army general who served in the kingdom. “For the Saudis, the relationship with Pakistan guarantees both against internal dissent and external threats.”