PM Imran Khan's upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia

Prime Minister Imran Khan is PM Imran Khan’s Visit to Saudi Arabia scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia from May 7 to 9. According to a news report published in Arab News, the premier will be visiting the kingdom on the invitation of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The prime minister will be accompanied by several members of the cabinet, which would include: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary, the PM’s special aide on the Middle East, Tahir Ashrafi, and the PM’s adviser on climate change, Malik Amin Aslam. Ahead of Imran Khan’s visit Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa has already reached Saudi and is expected to meet the civilian and military leadership. In this episode, analyst Adeel Warraich and Essa Naqvi talked about Pakistan-Saudi relations and how it went from getting worse to getting better since 2020. The main points are as follows:

Essa Naqvi pointed out that historically Pakistan and Saudi shared a good relationship and during the start of the Imran Khan government in 2018, the relations were ideal. But the change of status quo in Indian Kashmir by the Modi government on 05 August 2019 (abrogation of article 370) and Pakistan’s expectations from Saudi Arabia to stand with it on Kashmir issue against India and Saudi Arabia’s nonaction led to the deterioration of the bilateral relationship. Imran Khan also expected the Saudi to support them to use the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) platform to raise the issue of Kashmir and proposed a meeting of OIC foreign ministers meet in Islamabad on the completion of one year of abrogation of article 370 on 05 August 2020 and question India as a group of Islamic countries, but Saudi and other OIC countries denied.

Later Imran Khan met the PM of Malaysia during his New York visit, President of Turkey Tayyip Erdogan & President of Iran Hassan Rouhani. After these meetings, the news about the Kuala Lumpur summit was out and Saudi felt that a parallel Islamic platform to OIC will be formed that will reduce the importance of Saudi Arabia among Islamic countries. Pakistan has already said that it will form a new Islamic bloc after OIC denied being used as a platform to raise the Kashmir issue. These events led to further isolation between Pakistan and Saudia Arabia. Later the issue of recognition of Israel by Islamic countries and Pakistan’s refusal to succumb to the pressure of Saudi and refusal to recognize Israel added to the tensions.

Adeel Warraich noted that the change of guard in the USA, and the pressure on Saudia Arabia by the Biden government on the sale of weapons changed the equation and attitude of Saudia with Islamic countries including Pakistan. Also, the predicated role of Pakistan in the Afghanistan peace process and the realization of the USA of Pakistan’s role added to the normalization process of the relations. Saudi crown prince’s vision of 2030 to rid Saudi of oil economy basically is driving all the new developments and Saudi’s new policy. MBS is even ready to talk to Iran and improve the relationship in this matter.

Significance of this visit vis-a-vis Islamophobia: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s recent visit to UAE, Tehran, and Turkey was significant and one common topic was Islamophobia. The question is how many OIC countries have taken a stand on this issue, and the isolated stand of Imran Khan against the west will not work. If only the 27 OIC countries raise this issue as one voice then something will change. This will be a structured bilateral trip and Pakistan can gain two-three things out of it. First, there can be a meeting related to the prisoner’s release from Saudi jails, investment of Saudi oil refineries in Pakistan and Pakistan can play a role in the improvement of relations between Iran and Saudia and provide a platform. Behind the scene, China is playing a significant role as it is investing in Iran.

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