WISELY moved by the drivers of geopolitics and rightly convinced by the growing geo-economic-cum-geostrategic imperatives, Saudi Arabia (Islamic spiritual power) and Pakistan (Islamic nuclear power) look forward to building an interwoven strategic relationship beyond the scope of traditional diplomacy — a partnership being anchored in strategic compact redefined by hard power and soft power synergies. The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s current visit to Pakistan is an affirmation of this objective. The soft power or the private sector partnership is reflected by the signing of seven MoUs between the two states. Pakistan-Saudi’s hard-power cooperation, the bedrock of regional and global security is evidenced by Pakistan’s official entry into the 41 member Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) whose command is being headed by Pakistan’s former Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif.
Prince Turki Al-Faisal (who died on Monday), the former head of the General Intelligence Directorate, Saudi Arabia’s main intelligence agency, once described the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan as ‘’probably one of the closest relationships in the world between any two countries without any official treaty’’. Addressing the joint press conference with PM Imran Khan, MBS said, “It’s going to grow every month, every year,” he said of economic cooperation between the two countries. “We believe Pakistan is going to be a very important country in the coming future and we want to be sure we are a part of that.” Saudi Arabia has recently helped keep Pakistan’s economy by repairing its rapidly dwindling foreign exchange reserves with a $6 billion loan thereby giving Islamabad a breathing space as it negotiates a bailout with International Monetary Fund.
Situated at the heart of the Arabian Peninsula, Saudi Arabia is well- known for its output of hydrocarbon resources; close proximity to some of the world’s busiest maritime traffic lanes; and the custodian of the two holiest sites of Islam (Makkah and Medina). Saudi vision 2030 indicates that it must expand its global and regional clout. The three nation tour (Pakistan, Malaysia and India has been characterized as part of a Saudi “pivot to the east. On the front of the soft power state-building between the two sides, Saudi Arabia has taken bilateral initiatives in the field of tourism, minerals, sports and youth affairs. PM Imran Khan stressed hope that Islamabad was looking forward to an enhanced cooperation between the two sides in the banking sector, education sector, science and technology, trade and investment, construction sector and cultural cooperation. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan signed a spate of agreements totalling more than $20bn.The Crown Prince’s order to release 2107 Pakistani prisoners in KSA, seems an act of semblance. The formation of the Supreme Coordination Council to monitor the mechanism of soft power diplomacy between the two countries is a prompt and meaningful measure. With a renewed defence diplomatic effort in the Gulf and Afghanistan, Pakistan’s Army is determined to dispel misconceptions and address allegations made by both adversaries and allies. In this regard, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) must be regarded as the man who sets the country’s strategic agenda. In recent months, both the civil and military leaderships have played significant role in reshaping Pakistan foreign policy via corresponding to our geopolitical, geo-economic and geostrategic interests.
The military coalition presents an opportunity to advance Pakistan’s footing in the region. The role being played by Gen Raheel as commander of IMCTC is a counterbalance to India’s aggressive posture. Besides fighting terrorism and extremism, Pakistan sees IMCTC as a means to frustrate India’s bid of diplomatic isolation. According to Mission statement, ‘’The joint operations centre to coordinate counter-terror efforts is to set to be based in Jeddah and the member-states would target “any terrorist organization, not just ISIL, in countries like Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan.” The Saudi FM also advocated that all operations would be carried out in accordance with domestic laws and in compliance with the codes of international law. Therefore, such operations won’t require any new national legislation. And that can be understood as an extension of existing intelligence sharing channels. Since original establishment of the coalition in 2015 number of member states has grown from 34 to 41.
Operationally, IMCTC is committed to halting and deterring the forces of trans- regional terrorism ranging from the North Africa, Mideast to the very South and Central Asian regions. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Turkey, Afghanistan, Malaysia and Maldives may develop further military cooperation to boost up this alliance. However, Iran should never consider Pakistan-Saudi alliance against any country as has been currently clarified by the IMCTC Commander ex-Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif that the military coalition that he heads is not aimed at countering a specific country or sect, according to a statement issued by the Senate Secretariat.
Ideologically, Islamabad-Riyadh partnership fully endorses the principles of our foreign policy once cherished by the founder of Pakistan in his address: ‘’ Our foreign policy is one of friendliness and goodwill towards all the nations of the world. We do not cherish aggressive designs against any country or nation. We believe in the principle of honesty and fair play in national and international dealings and are prepared to make our utmost contribution to the promotion of peace and prosperity among the nations of the world…” It is reliably learnt that Saudi Arabia vowed to de-escalate brewing tensions between Pakistan and India during a high-profile summit in Islamabad on Monday (Feb 18).
And yet most significantly, in wake of changing regional and international scenario where Saudi Arabia faces complex peace challenges in Mideast accompanied by West’s diplomatic isolation in post Khashoggi phase; and while in South Asian region where US-Taliban peace talks are underway and where festering Kashmir issue seems central to peace scope between Pak-India, this emerging Pak-Saudi smart power relationship will hopefully provide potentials to promote peace, prosperity and stability both globally and internationally.
— The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum- analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of European Society of International Law (ESIL).