Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pakistan

Explained: Pakistan-Saudi Rift


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not Much

Mains level: OIC

The rift between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia over Jammu and Kashmir is out in the open after a delegation led by Pak Army Chief was denied a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

Try this question:

Q. Discuss the new geopolitical realignment in the Arab world and India’s role in it.

Take a look after how the ties emerged and deteriorated:

Saudi-Pakistan ties: A Recap

  • The relationship between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan was most prominent during the 1971 war between India and Pakistan.
  • Saudi Arabia is also reported to have transferred arms and equipment including the loan of some 75 aircraft to Pakistan.
  • After the war, Saudi Arabia consistently supported the call for the return of Pakistan’s prisoners of war and for dropping the Dacca (Dhaka) Trial against 195 of them.
  • After the war, Saudi Arabia gave loans to Pakistan enabling it to buy arms worth about $1 million by 1977, including F-16s and Harpoon missiles from the US.
  • Saudi oil and dollars have kept Pakistan’s economy on its feet after sanctions following the nuclear tests.
  • Over the last two decades, Saudi Arabia has provided oil on deferred payments to Pakistan whenever it ran into economic difficulty.
  • Saudi funding of madrasas has also led to their mushrooming, later giving rise to religious extremism.
  • In 1990, Pakistan sent its ground forces to defend Saudi Arabia against Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

Alignment over Kashmir

  • The alignment over Kashmir at the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) crystallized since 1990 when the insurgency in J&K began.
  • While the OIC has issued statements over the last three decades, it became a ritual of little significance to India.
  • Last year, after India revoked Article 370 in Kashmir, Pakistan lobbied with the OIC for its condemnation of India’s move.
  • To Pakistan’s surprise, Saudi Arabia and the UAE issued statements that were nuanced rather than harshly critical of New Delhi.
  • Over the last year, Pakistan has tried to rouse the sentiments among the Islamic countries, but only a handful of them — Turkey and Malaysia — publicly criticised India.

The Saudi perspective

  • Saudi Arabia’s change in position has been a gradual process under Crown Prince MBS.
  • As it seeks to diversify from its heavily oil-dependent economy, it sees India as a valuable partner in the region.
  • New Delhi, for its part, has wooed the Arab world over the last six years.
  • From Saudi Arabia to the UAE, it worked the diplomatic levers through high-level visits and dangled opportunities for investment and business
  • MBS, who is looking to invest in India, has taken a realistic view, along with UAE’s crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed.

Energy connection to India

  • Saudi Arabia is India’s fourth-largest trade partner (after China, US and Japan) and a major source of energy: India imports around 18% of its crude oil requirement from the Kingdom.
  • Saudi Arabia is also a major source of LPG for India.
  • And, with India stopping oil imports from Iran due to the threat of US sanctions, Saudi Arabia is key in this respect as well.

Saudi-Pakistan tension

The tension between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan has been brewing for some time.

  • In 2015, Pakistan’s Parliament decided not to support the Saudi military effort to restore an internationally recognised government in Yemen.
  • Later, Pakistan’s then army chief General Raheel Sharif led the Saudi-led Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism, comprising 41 Muslim countries.
  • In February 2019, after the Pulwama terror attack, it was Saudi Arabia and the UAE that pulled their weight to get Wing Commander Abhinandan released, apart from the US.
  • The Saudi Crown Prince visited Pakistan and India at that time and made it clear that he valued economic opportunities. He did not wade into the Kashmir issue in India or the terrorism issue in Pakistan.

Frustration over Kashmir

A year after Article 370 was revoked, Qureshi belled the cat.

  • Pak accuses that Saudi Arabia has failed to deliver on the Kashmir and OIC had not played a leadership role in backing Pakistan against India.
  • This angered Saudi Arabia, which in November 2018 had announced a $6.2 billion loan package for Pakistan.
  • The package included $3 billion in loans and an oil credit facility amounting to $3.2 billion.
  • Riyadh demanded the return of the $3 billion loans and refused to sell oil to Islamabad on deferred payment. Pakistan immediately returned $1 billion, displaying the rift.
  • But, in the current economic situation, Pakistan is unable to pay the next tranche.
  • What has also angered Saudi Arabia is that Pakistan has been trying to pander to Turkey and Malaysia.

The China factor

  • Pakistan and China have called themselves “all-weather allies” and “iron brothers” (during FMs meet).
  • Over the last year, Beijing has supported Pakistan on Kashmir, raising the issue at the UN Security Council thrice.
  • China has also emerged as Pakistan’s biggest benefactor through its funding of the CPEC.
  • Saudi Arabia too has invested in CPEC projects, to the tune of $10 billion, but Pakistan now looks towards Beijing for both diplomatic and economic support.

Implications for India

  • Saudi’s silence on J&K as well as CAA-NRC has emboldened the Indian government.
  • At a time when India and China are locked in a border standoff, India has to be wary of Pakistan and China teaming up.
  • But with Saudi Arabia in its corner, for now, it may have leverage over Pakistan — Riyadh would not want a conflict and regional instability.
  • What is key to India’s calculus is that the Pakistan-China and the Pakistan-Saudi axes are not fused together at the moment: It is not a Saudi-Pakistan-China triangle.

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