Col M Hanif (Retd)
INDIA’S Prime Minister, Mr Modi visited Saudi Arabia in the first week of this month. He was given an unprecedented warm welcome by the Saudi king, Salman. During the visit, both countries signed agreements including cooperation in intelligence sharing regarding terror financing and money laundering, and promoting investments. Both sides also agreed to enhance defence cooperation through mutual visits of military experts, conducting joint military exercises, visits of ships and aircrafts and supply of arms and ammunition and their joint development. King, Salman also awarded Modi, Saudi Arabia’s highest civilian award, King Abdulaziz Sash.Saudi Arabia has also agreed to make investments in India’s infrastructure development out of its fourth largest sovereign wealth fund in the world with the present holding standing at 632.3billion USD.
According to the comments of IDSA, India, Modi was successful in raising the level of strategic partnership from the commercial relations, to the political, security and defence cooperation. It is being claimed by the Indian analysts that the visit was very timely, being part of India’s effort to isolate Pakistan from the Gulf region, when Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia had hit a rough patch, due to Pakistan not joining the Saudi led Arab coalition in the Yemen crises.
Saudi Arabia may be still apprehensive whether Pakistan joins the Saudi proposed new coalition of 34 Arab states against terrorism, due to the constraint that it may negatively impact Pakistan’s relations with Iran. In this context, the US scholar, Bruce Reidel has also stated in his article that Saudi Arabia’s excellent welcome given to Modi reflects that Saudi Arabia wanted to indicate to Pakistan that it had other options also. But the dilemma for Pakistan is that the Saudi leadership plans to deal with the impending dangers to their security from external actors much away from its borders, for which it wants Pakistan to join the coalition immediately.
In the above complex scenario, it appears that options for Pakistan are limited. The safest option to avoid joining the coalition is if Pakistan is able to improve relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran through mediation, which requires intense diplomatic effort. But it is worth trying, may be through the assistance of China, having good relations with both Saudi Arabia and Iran. There is another option that Pakistan should convince Saudi Arabia to accept its guarantee of defending its territorial integrity, but Pakistan should not be asked to join the coalition forces. However, If Pakistan does not succeed in these two efforts, then, it looks more appropriate if it joins the Arab coalition, since this option involves more benefits than disadvantages.
As part of the coalition, Pakistan will gain full support of the Gulf countries in military cooperation, on Kashmir issue and will attract Gulf countries’ investments. In this case Iran will also like to have good relations with Pakistan and might join the coalition to avoid its isolation in the region.
In this scenario, the US may not oppose Pakistan joining the coalition and it may also soften up its pressures on Pakistan from constraining its nuclear capabilities. Even China might like Pakistan to join the coalition since it will facilitate its relations with the Gulf states. In this option the only disadvantage is that as part of the coalition, Pakistan’s forces will have to share the responsibility of fighting the IS and other terrorists, for which these are well experienced. Moreover, in this scenario the Pakistan government will have the full support of its people, in view of their strong pro-Saudi Arabia sentiment.
In case Pakistan does not join the coalition, then, although India may also not join the coalition, it will exploit the situation to isolate Pakistan through carefully planned strategic partnership and military cooperation with the Gulf States by providing training, military equipment and ammunition and starting joint defence production projects. While Pakistan might lose Gulf countries’ support on Kashmir, it might as well miss the investments, and also suffer from lack of foreign remittances if our manpower is reduced. In this situation, even if we try to develop strategic partnership with Iran it will not happen because of both countries’ differences over Afghanistan, India’s close friendship with Iran and the US leanings towards Iran.
At best we can have good working relations with Iran, which Iran would also like to have. In this scenario, Pakistan government also might not be able to win over the support of its people, because of their pro Saudi Arabia sentiment, due to their love for the Holy Mecca and Medina. In fact, in this scenario, Pakistan will become isolated in the region because of India and Iran’s cooperation on Afghanistan issue. In view of above, it is advisable for the government to carefully handle this complex foreign policy issue on time, to Pakistan’s advantage.
— The scholar works for the Islamabad Policy Research Institute, a think tank based in Islamabad.