India must keep a keen eye on Saudi Arabia-Pakistan ties as Imran Khan goes all out to woo Riyadh

  • Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan is all set to visit Saudi Arabia later in September, according to media reports.

  • Khan is likely to travel to Saudi before his scheduled trip to the US for his first address in the UN General Assembly on 27 September.

  • India needs to keep a watchful eye on the the Saudi-Pakistan relations, especially when it needs regional support on the Kashmir issue.

Amid tensions with India following New Delhi's move to scrap Jammu and Kashmir's special status in August, Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan is all set to visit Saudi Arabia in late September, according to media reports.

Imran is likely to travel to Saudi before his scheduled trip to the US for his first address in the UN General Assembly on 27 September. His visit to the Gulf nation is seen as an attempt to woo it as Pakistan continues to grapple under a major economic crisis.

India cannot afford to miss any of these developments and needs to keep a watchful eye on the the Saudi-Pakistan relations, especially when it needs as much regional support as it can on the Kashmir issue.

A look at Saudi-Pakistan ties

Pakistan, which is facing significant economic challenges in the backdrop of the country's large fiscal deficits and loose monetary policies, shares strong bilateral ties with Saudi Arabia and Riyadh has provided crucial aid to Islamabad to overcome this crisis.

 India must keep a keen eye on Saudi Arabia-Pakistan ties as Imran Khan goes all out to woo Riyadh

File image of Imran Khan and Narendra Modi. Twitter @MEAIndia

In January, the Gulf nation announced plans to to set up a $10 billion oil refinery in Pakistan's deepwater port of Gwadar. This move was aimed an becoming an important partner in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Subsequently, during Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's (MbS) visit to Islamabad in February, officials signed memoranda of understanding in energy, minerals and agriculture valued at about $20 billion.

While Pakistan — which has also received assistance packages from UAE and China — is still desperate for monetary help, Saudi Arabia itself has been in need of friends after sparking global outrage in 2018 over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

However, the Kingdom clarified that it was not indulging in charity. "This is an investment. There is benefit for both sides,” its Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir said.

MbS'  visit massively helped step up the relations; prior to the "investment", Saudi and Pakistan's relations were mostly based only on their military cooperation.

Why is Saudi important for India?

Under its Vision 2030 strategy, Saudi Arabia is looking to diversify investments in addition to its crude oil reserves and develop as a “global investment powerhouse”. Apart from this, it is also a part of CPEC, and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI):  two important projects in the region.

The Narendra Modi government has understood Saudi's value, while it vies to turn India into a $5-trillion economy by 2024. It has tried well to maintain New Delhi's friendly relations with Riyadh, and during the crown prince's visit in February, five agreements were inked in fields like tourism and enhancement of bilateral investment relations.

If Pakistan's manages to get friendlier with Saudi, there is no doubt that it will try to influence Riyadh against India.

Speculations about Pakistan's motives

An indicator of the improved ties was Imran's phone call to MbS after India's move to abrogate provisions of Article 370, which gave Jammu and Kashmir special status. Amid tensions, two ministers from Saudi and UAE also visited Pakistan earlier in September.

Pakistan's Inter-Services Public Relations then claimed that the visiting ministers assured complete support of their countries "to resolve the situation created by India's unilateral steps in occupied Kashmir". Its army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa also said Pakistan was proud of its “special strategic and brotherly relationship” with the UAE and Saudi Arabia, according to reports.

There were claims the two ministers told Pakistan that Kashmir was "not a Muslim ummah-related issue". However, Pakistan foreign office spokesperson Mohammad Faisal dismissed those reports, and insisted that both officials had "expressed solidarity with Pakistan and support for the Kashmir cause", Daily Times quoted him as saying during a press briefing.

India asserted that the scrapping of Article 370 was an "internal matter" and defended imposition of restrictions in Kashmir on the grounds that they were put to prevent Pakistan from causing further disturbances via its proxies and terrorists. But none of that stopped Pakistan from raising the issue at 42nd session of the UNHRC. "India’s assertion that these actions are its internal affair is patently false," Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had told the UNHRC.

With Imran planning to highlight the Kashmir issue in his UNGA speech, it is very likely that the topic will be on his mind during his Saudi stop-over. Although none of these event pose an immediate threat to India on any front, keeping a track will do no harm.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Sep 13, 2019 22:21:49 IST