Amidst Pandemic Crisis, the relations between Pakistan and KSA take further strides, as Prime Minister Imran Khan recently received a telephone call from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who invited the premier to visit Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the prime minister wrote a letter to Saudi Royals, lauding their “Saudi Green Initiative and Green Middle East Initiative.” The fresh development between the two states cleared the hovering clouds of subtleness over the trajectory of ties between the countries and seemingly Riyadh- Islamabad tends to reset the tone by averting the resentments that impeded flourishment of ties in the recent past. In retrospect, emboldened by ideological assimilations and mutual bond of bonhomie, Pakistan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia shares deeply rooted Security, strategic, social, political, and economic relations. The Pakistani nation holds a special association with reference to the KSA for being the prominent state of the Muslim world and its position as the custodian of Islam’s holiest cities. Apart from bilateral engagement, both states cherish a prominent role in the Muslim world through sharing the OIC forum. History vindicates that KSA has been amongst the most valuable partner of Pakistan and it remains the key actor in providing economic assistance in crucial times. Notably, during the Indo-Pak wars, and atomic tests of Pakistan it has shown unconditional diplomatic support.
Likewise, both partners share an extensive economic relationship. Currently, 2.5 million Pakistan’s contributes to the economic prosperity of KSA and it also generates remittances of $2 billion for Pakistan. Also, bilateral cooperation is further deepened in the energy sector as KSA is the largest source of the petroleum industry of Pakistan. It also plans to set up a $10Bn oil refinery in Gwadar and likely to invest in the Reko-Diq mine. KSA also vows to use CPEC routes to supply petroleum products. Besides, multidimensional military cooperation over the years both states able to develop strong military nexus. KSA is the largest importer of the Pakistani arms, weapons industry. Approximately 70000 Pakistani personnel serving in the KSA’s military. Furthermore, it also tends to purchase ballistic missiles from Pakistan. However, the paradigm shift in the regional geopolitical sphere has made the relations subtle and elusive, which needs to be addressed through mutual diplomatic efforts. From Pakistan’s perspective, following reformative policy measures can be opted to ensure the enduring and smooth trajectory of bilateral ties with Saudi Arabia. As Riyadh has assured its support for the BRI and vowed to diversify its economy from a largely oil-based model through collaboration and foreign investments, this is a key converging point of economic interests. The bilateral relationship has grown further since Pakistan joined the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT). The IMAFT, created by Saudi Arabia in December 2015 to combat Daesh and other terror groups, has 39 members, including Turkey and Malaysia with a command centre in Riyadh.
From the KSA perspective, it holds unconditional assistance over its diplomatic endeavor from Islamabad, and cordial relations with a nuclear state potentially uplifts its posture in the realm of politics and it also underpins inadvertent deterrence towards the anti-KSA regimes. The majority of the political pundits or experts usually take one side of the picture- apprising the dynamics of relations through the lens of diplomatic and economic exigencies of Pakistan, however, it always holds a twofold trajectory that serves the interests of KSA and Pakistan respectively. It is quite evident, Pakistan is shifting its diplomatic preferences from security to a geo-economic oriented state. This transition also allows it rejuvenate to its ties with old allies in aligned the contemporary dynamics of the global paradigm. The stalled ties with Pakistan means, ultimately push Pakistan towards the Iranian bloc that has been on the rise given the recent trends of the geo-economic developments under the umbrella of BRI. In a broader spectrum, Pakistan and KSA remain the frontline allies of the USA however in recent years the strategic partnership of both the states in the doldrums due to the shift of the US policies, and with Biden administration, at center stage, both states have been at the receiving end in terms in cold responses. In such circumstances, KSA can look forward towards Beijing to uplift its weightage vis-à-vis its relations with the great powers, and in this domain, Pakistan has already become a key mediating prospect. Likewise, KSA tends to foster an alliance with the great power-driven through its security exigencies, in particular concerning Iran. It is pertinent to mention that, although KSA-US holds converging narratives towards Tehran, yet it is a paradox as Riyadh unable to gain desirable assistance from the US and it has become a conventional pattern of fueling enmity between KSA-Iran rather than building measures for the rapprochement of ties between two states. Although the argument seems pretty much idealistic in nature, nevertheless in global politics there have countless examples of turning foes into frenemies. With this pretext, the Sino-Pak alliance can be a favorable option for Riyadh to revamp the dynamics of ties between two regional archrivals. As far as Iran is concerned, Islamabad must ensure a balanced policy based on its own interests and crisis management between the two regional actors.
Given the fact, the cordial ties bring positive-sum gains for both the actors, in an account of this, Pakistan needs to revisit its diplomatic manoeuvrings towards the KSA. First, there is an existing gap that spurs into misperceptions-Islamabad should reassure the kingdom’s leadership that ties between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia remain firm despite Islamabad’s engagement with other Muslim countries, and such efforts are envisioned to empower the global Muslim community rather than creating fissures. Over the past few years, the bilateral ties between the Pak-KSA preluded with scepticism and uncertainty, and military establishment has been the major source of conducting diplomacy, therefore there is a dire need off intersection into the domestic policy apparatus to clear the air. In addition to that, On the matter of Israel recognition, the state-level delegation should present a clear and staunch narrative based on the pronouncement of national interests, rather than opting for a policy that places it in an unorthodox position. In institutional mechanism, Islamabad needs to look at dynamics of ties beyond the bilateral level and in this regard, inclusive affordable cooperation to the KSA through OIC, GCC forums can another key venue to transcend their sphere of ties.
Likewise, inter-state level contentions are another key driver that opens a window for Pakistan’s role as mediator, pushing the peace agenda, Pakistan can offer to mediate a role to defuse the escalating tensions between the Middle Eastern states. It is pertinent to mention that Israel’s normalization drive in the Middle East is at the peak, Indian would pitch deceitful propaganda against Pakistan- KSA pressurizing Pakistan for Israel recognition through print, electronic and social media that needs to be neutralized proactively. As far as military cooperation is concerned, Saudi Arabia’s largest importer of Pakistani arms, state officials visit must ensure the probability maximizations of the weapons exports to the KSA. For that Islamabad can Offer extended assistance in defence cooperation- military training programs, conducting joint exercises would further propel the bilateral ties. Pakistani Diaspora in the KSA has been another key prospect of cooperation, currently, over 2.5 million Pakistanis work in the KSA and send remittance to the tone of roughly between $5 billion to $6bn that remains one of the major resources for the foreign remittances, Pakistan should seek maximum concessions for them to ensure the economic leverages intact. Besides manpower, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan can also work closely within the framework of “Saudi Vision 2030.” The two countries have unexploited proven mineral resources. Thus, investment in geophysics and other mining-related disciplines will pay huge dividends in the long run. Over the Yemen and Syrian crisis, Pakistan should persist in its non-interventionist approach. Offer KSA, extended CPEC partnership that will deepen its regional sphere of engagement.
To conclude, both the states need to avert the grievances and resentments concerning their dynamics of bilateral ties to foster a strong prospect of sustainable engagement and cooperation for the future. A pragmatic policy based on positive sum-gains by Islamabad- Riyadh would better accomplish their respective interests. Any opportunity for regional peace and stability must be capitalized by Islamabad to uplift its posture. Moving forward, Pakistan should, by all means, work towards improving and strengthening the bilateral relationship with Saudi Arabia. However, this should not come at the cost of national sovereignty by any means; this country must remain free to make decisions regarding foreign policy that are in its best interest. Moreover, Pakistan must work hard to stabilize its internal economic and political faultiness so that both friends and foes are unable to exploit its weaknesses.