King Abdullah gave a blank cheque to Gilani

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Zahid Malik

Wednesday, August 24, 2011 - I am sorry I am commenting upon the fabulous outcome of the visit of Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani to Saudi Arabia from August 7 to 9, 2011 a bit late because I became awfully busy in some of my pressing engagements after my return from Saudi Arabia on August 11.

Anyhow, I would first invite the readers to kindly recall the visit of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Custodian of the two Holy Mosques, to Pakistan in October 2003 when he was the Crown Prince. Addressing an august gathering at the Convention Centre, Islamabad, where he electrified not only the audience including the then President, General Pervez Musharraf, who was sitting alongside him at the dais but also people across Pakistan, who were glued to their TV and Radio sets airing the address live, by enthusiastically chanting at the end of his inspiring speech “Pakistan Zindabad” thrice. King Abdullah, who assumed the throne after the death of King Fahd in 2005, genuinely considers Pakistan as more than just a friendly country. At his electrifying speech, he declared to visit Pakistan again but he has not graced Pakistan again uptil now.

It is a common knowledge in Pakistan that the incumbent Government of Pakistan, since its inception in 2008, could not deepen and widen the warmth of traditional relationship and brotherhood with Saudi Arabia. Even the Kingdom's visible liking for the Opposition leader Mian Nawaz Sharif diminished. It may be of some interest to the readers to know that Mian Nawaz Sharif caused annoyance to the Saudi system by flouting its pragmatic advice: “Please evolve a forward-looking approach in politics and forget General Musharraf.” Mian Sahib's terse reply was: “I can forget whatever harm the General caused to me but I will never forgive him for the destruction of the country.” Saudi Arabia understandably, and rightly, took the big NO as disrespect to His Majesty. Anyhow, without going into the details as to why Pakistan, on the whole, could not further promote and strengthen the unique relations between the two countries, I as a person who has some access to inside information, can say with authority that Prime Minister Gilani's recent visit to Saudi Arabia and his meeting with King Abdullah has given a tremendous boost to the unparalleled excellent relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the visit has set the tone for 'Look Saudi' and 'Look Arab' policy, which I have been advocating all along.

Before briefly touching upon as to what transpired at the Prime Minister's visit, it may be appropriate to mention that Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, a close confidant of King Abdullah, played a decisive role in creating an enabling atmosphere which ultimately blossomed into an extremely productive visit of Prime Minister Gilani. Prince Bandar, son of the Crown Prince, who had been the KSA's high-profile and very influential Ambassador to the USA for more than two decades and who enjoyed unparallel access to the Oval Office during his dash from Beijing to Islamabad on March 25 this year had meetings with various top decision-makers in the capital of Pakistan and some other personalities with vast clout including General (Retd) Ehsanul Haq, former DG, ISI and the then Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. Prince Bandar, whose royal residence in Washington D.C. was visited even by the US Presidents, went back to Riyadh with tremendous good wishes for the “brotherly Pakistan”.

Incidentally, I also happened to be in Saudi Arabia on the invitation of Ministry of Information of the Kingdom during the visit of the Prime Minister. I had a detailed meeting with the Minister for Culture and Information H.E. Dr. Abdulaziz Mohiuddin Khoja, who had been the Kingdom's Ambassador to Lebanon, a strategic station where the Kingdom deploys only senior and experienced diplomats. The Minister is also a great poet of Saudi Arabia with a unique credit of ten Dewans. I delivered to him a written invitation of the Information Minister of Pakistan, Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan to visit Pakistan and discussed with him what is generally called in diplomatic jargons 'matters of mutual interest'. I had a meeting with another very senior functionary of the Saudi system whose identity is not required to be mentioned at this point of time.

I also had an about one-hour meeting with the Prime Minister, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, at the Inter-Continental Hotel, Madina, where he was staying for offering his prayers at one of the two holiest mosques of Saudi Arabia and I too happened to be lodged there as a guest of the Kingdom. Prime Minister Gilani's body language was quite relaxed and he was extremely happy at the outcome of his interaction with the Saudi leadership.

Before I mention the net outcome of the crucial meeting of the Prime Minister with His Majesty, I would say the fact that a key functionary of the Saudi system received Prime Minister Gilani at the airport made Pakistan-Saudi relationship watchers to believe the high importance the Kingdom attached to the visit of Premier Gilani. The importance Saudi Arabia now attaches to Mr. Gilani is also reflective of the fact that the HM, a deeply devoted religious figure, does not normally receive foreign dignitaries during the holy month of Ramadan but the Saudi authorities went for an exception and invited the Pakistan's Premier during the holy month.

An insider told me that the King who has a deep interest in the safety, security and stability of the State of Pakistan and who is keen for the welfare of the people of Pakistan not only expressed his fullest possible solidarity with Pakistan in an enthusiastic style but also gave a sort of blank cheque to the visiting Pakistani Premier. “Pakistan can depend on Saudi Arabia”, the King said emphatically. Contrary to a report in a section of Pakistani Press that the Saudi Government has agreed to provide oil on a deferred payment basis as it used to be in the past, the Prime Minister neither made such a request nor the King nodded his head in affirmative. But it is understood that His Majesty's blank cheque covers any possible assistance that Pakistan may need in any field. The Foreign Office must be feeling relieved and more comfortable now in the pursuance of the objectives of Pakistan's Foreign Policy.

I may very briefly mention here that in the perspective of fast changing world, Saudi Arabia as well as the King has acquired more strategic depth and decisive influence in the region. For instance, getting a cue from the Kingdom, the GCC also pressed Assad of Syria for “serious reforms” and “immediate end to violence and bloodshed”. Even the US President Obama issued a strongest call to the Syrian leader to relinquish power. Therefore, the blank cheque given to Prime Minister Gilani at this point of time acquires more significance and value.

Therefore, dear readers, let me say that the fabulous outcome of the visit is yet another feather in the cap of Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, who is rightly credited in Pakistan by all knowledgeable circles as a man of consensus and who has played a decisive role in keeping the system going.

However, I would advise the Pakistan's policy-makers that ultimately Pakistan must learn to stand on its own feet. Our conduct should be commensurate with the vast resources, immense potential and huge population and size of Pakistan. We must remember that like other Gulf States, Saudi Arabia too is following a policy of Saudization which means more jobs for the locals and ultimately less dependence on expatriates. It was in this perspective that the ailing King Abdullah on his recovery and return home from the USA announced on 19th May, 2011 a SR 500 billion social spending package that includes a minimum wage and cost-of-living bonus for government workers, unemployment allowances, a boost in housing loans and an increase in health spending. Pakistan must understand that the world is fas

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