Pak-Saudi ties moving from personal to strategic domain: Report

London: Security think-tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) has said in a report that ties between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have deepened and heading in a direction where the relation is becoming institutionalized increasingly addressing both countries’ strategic interests.

The report published on Rusi’s website on Monday noted that there have been recent difficulties in the relationship between the two countries – over the issue of sending Pakistani troops to fight alongside Saudi in Yemen – but the thorny issue has been overcome by the two countries.

The report said that Pakistani Parliament’s opposition to Islamabad’s military involvement in the Saudi-led coalition in the ongoing war in Yemen sparked controversy and questions about the essence of the strategic relations between the two countries but Pakistan’s decision not to join their Saudi allies in that war was largely due to domestic preoccupations. It said that Pakistan stayed out of Yemen to focus at home and to avoid “opening up an additional front with Iran, the Houthi’s powerful external patron and source of resources, which could contribute even further to instability inside Pakistan”.

It said relation between the two countries is moving from a personal relationship “between Saudi kings and Pakistani prime ministers, rather than the formal institutions of the two countries” to the “strategic domain where both countries are fine with each in pursuing their own interests independently. The report said that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have ties dating back to 1960 when the Pakistani army contributed to the establishment of the Saudi armed forces.

It said: “It also assisted the Royal Saudi Air Force with the introduction of their first fighter jets. There are over 1,200 Pakistani trainers in various Saudi security and military sectors, either under the Ministry of Interior or the armed forces.

In light of the current economic and political reforms in Saudi Arabia, in which the Kingdom is eager to implement Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are now hoping to adopt a more strategic partnership, moving beyond from the whims of personal ties.

“Recently, the Saudis have sent two significant delegations to Pakistan with the aim of exploring trade investments and defence ties, sharing intelligence in the field of combat against terrorism, and forming strategic working groups to handle the future development of relations.

“The Crown Prince, who also acts as Defence Minister, received the Chief of Staff of the Pakistani Army, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, in Riyadh in February to discuss bilateral military relations, with particular focus on how to strengthen and develop military training, joint exercises, and the exchange of military expertise. The Saudis have given support to Pakistan in combating extremism.”

The report said that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are interested in an “interdependent security relationship, one which does not infringe on either’s relations with other countries. Saudi Arabia, for one, is strengthening its strategic ties with India without jeopardising its relationship with Pakistan. Similarly, Pakistan has explained to the Saudis that although going into Yemen was never an option for Pakistan’s military, Islamabad would defend Saudi Arabia when and if needed.”

The report claimed that despite its recent rapprochement with Iran, Pakistan has made clear that it supports Saudi Arabia’s interest in guarding against Iranian interference in Gulf security and Saudi Arabia’s internal security.

“And, in turn, Saudi Arabia has supported Pakistan in disputes over the Kashmir problem at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).” It said Saudis have announced that it would join the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which will strengthen the trade exchange between the two countries.

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