Fast recovering from the coronavirus, PM Imran Khan has set his eyes on cultivating amicable ties with countries, near and far. In a letter penned to his neighbour, he talked of his desire for durable peace and stability in South Asia while hinting at the longstanding Kashmir conflict. The impeccable penmanship diplomacy might even be linked to a resumption of cotton and yarn trade.
Gaining more pertinence, however, is the premier’s warming-up letter to Pakistan’s longtime fraternal ally, Saudi Arabia. Monday saw the two key leaders of the Muslim world get chummy again with the extension of an invitation to visit Saudi Arabia hours after Khan had lauded Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s plans for “Saudi Green Initiative” and rallying the region for the greater “Green Middle East Initiative.” If this did not throw those counting on a parting of the ways off balance, the PMO’s series of tweets hinting at collaboration to “further augment bilateral ties” must have done the deed. After all, it was not long ago that hints of a diplomatic rift between Islamabad and Riyadh were flying left, right and centre.
Hawks on the other side of our eastern border were especially passionate about painting Pakistan’s so-called shifting equations in the Middle East. Despite repeated assurances of there being no credence to the brotherly relations being soured by none other than the prime minister, there seemed no end to their fanning of the flames. Of course, Pakistan’s decades-old economic, political and military ties with the Middle Eastern kingdom has always troubled many across the globe. There certainly have been bumps in the road, but a genuine break in the strategic relationship was never even close to being likely. Last year’s diplomatic spat over Kashmir was taken way, way out of context to spell the beginning of the end. But in reality, our special regard for the kingdom as custodians of Islam’s holiest cities and Saudi leader’s continued solidarity with Pakistan’s unique position in the Islamic world are far too strong linkages to be shredded in the name of misunderstanding.
Yet, the turbulence in Pak-Saudi ties, especially amid the changing geopolitical realities in the past few years, cannot be denied. The Saudis are particularly wary of a new Muslim block forming that includes Pakistan, Malaysia, Iran and Turkey. Any such counter to the much-celebrated OIC would simply be a challenge to the Arab throne. As for Pakistan, speculations regarding Arab pressure to nudge Islamabad closer to Tel Aviv cannot, under any circumstances, sit well with the masses. Though the kingdom has bailed out our economy at multiple points, its significant investments in India have rattled many at home. Pak-Saudi relations have certainly been a bit complex in the recent past (especially after our 2015 vote against entering the Yemen war). But nothing can quell the rumours of strained relations like the two old-time brothers getting along fine. Going forward, Pakistan should leave no stone unturned in strengthening its relationship with Riyadh. Equally important to these improved ties is the show of unity between the allies. Our goal should not just be a diplomatic collaboration, but one that can show the door to those cashing in on any bump to get new alliances for themselves. *