Muhammad bin Salman, Saudi Crown Prince, sets off on an Asian tour. His first destination was Pakistan and next India. Engagement with Saudi Arabia for Pakistan has always split the opinion in the circles of intelligentsia in Pakistan; and that, for reasons, worrying but valid.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s latest engagement with Pakistan is welcome because: first, it promises a $20billion investment in Pakistan to boost up an economy with foreign reserves as meager as $8billion. Second: this engagement includes creation of Saudi-Pakistan Supreme Coordination Council (SPCC) which is a ten multi-tiered coordination council, comprising 10 working groups to execute avenues of bilateral trade in different sectors.
The engagement is also worrying because: first, during a joint press conference with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, his Saudi counterpart Adel al Jubeir hinted at some disturbing fault-lines in the region, calling Iran “Chief Sponsor of Terrorism.” He further went on to allege that Iran had been supporting Hezbollah in Lebonan, Houthis in Yemen and harbouring Board of Directors of Al-Qaeda, including OBL, since 9/11.
While some of his allegation may carry weight, making such statements on Pakistani soil doesn’t bode well for a country that has already been ripped apart by the sectarian warfare played by two regional giants in the region for decades. Pakistan in general and Balochistan in particular had been on receiving hand of this ugly policy of the two regional giants and this beautiful city Quetta has seen much bloodshed in the aftermath.
Second: Jubeir, while commenting on $20billion investment in Pakistan, clearly said that his country has “Strategic interests in Pakistan” which implies that not out of goodwill but out of “Strategic Compulsions”, his country is investing in Pakistan. If Jubeir’s “Strategic Compulsions” are put in one punch line, they definitely are: “Ideological Warfare with Iran.”
Third, Jubeir perhaps unintentionally confessed that his country had been engaged with Pakistan through unrecognized channels by saying, “his country desires to institutionalise” relations with Pakistan. What were the uninstitutional relations so far with Pakistan remains an open secret for open-eyes.
As a consequence, Pakistan is under pressure as an ugly incident has already taken place in Iran. 13th Feb saw killing of 27 Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) members in Sistan-Baluchestan province of Iran. The province shares borders with Pakistani province Balochistan, having many fault-lines, ranging from insurgency to sectarian rifts. In this suicide attack claimed by Jaish-e-Adl, 13members of IRGC were also injured.
A similar kind of an ugly incident also took place in Pulwama IOK wherein 41 Indian paramilitary troops were killed. This incident, according to BBC, was claimed by Jaish-e-Mohammad.
Threat of Surgicial Strikes from East and West:
From West: Soon after the incident, IRGC Commander Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari accused Saudia and UAE and threatened Pakistan of surgical strikes on sanctuaries of what he called “mercenaries on her soil.”
From East: India has threatened to take action against what it calls infiltrators from Pakistan.
Diplomatic Pressure: Indian media has convinced international community of Pakistan’s alleged role in Pulwama attack and today US made a demand of Pakistan not to block moves to put Masood Azhar, Jaish-e-Mohammad’s leader, on UN’s global terrorist list; a move blocked several times by China. The question is if China is also convinced, what policy options are left with Pakistan?
Under circumstances as precarious, Pakistan needs to tread on the path of foreign engagement cautiously to avoid creating an inferno for citizens once again. Trade with all animosity with none should be a viable policy for the state along with dismantling all “uninstitutional” relations, entities and behaviours within Pakistan. As a nation, Pakistan should learn to balance relations from Saudia which is making only $20billion investment in Pakistan but is expected to make $44billion investment in India—the arch rival of Pakistan.