Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has begun a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia in an effort to restore ties after tensions between longtime allies in recent years.
Analysts say the arrival of Khan in Riyadh on Friday at the invitation of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is significant. Although Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have historically been close allies, their strong ties have suffered several setbacks.
“Prime Minister Khan’s visit to Saudi Arabia this week … is an attempt to restore relations to their former, very close level,” said Madiha Afzal, a Brookings Institution foreign policy partner.
The two countries remain important geopolitical partners and stable relations between Islamabad and Riyadh are expected to continue.
Pointing to the importance of Khan’s visit, Pakistan’s army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday before the arrival of the prime minister.
Pakistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia Bilal Akbar and Saudi military officials welcomed Bajwa in preparation for Khan’s visit.
“Like all Pakistani army chiefs, Bajwa called for a shot at foreign policy and his own visit was clearly intended to show Pakistan’s seriousness before Khan’s arrival,” said Michael Kugelman, a senior South Asian ally at Wilson.
Riyadh will also seek to strengthen political ties with Pakistan, with most observers looking forward to discussing job opportunities for Pakistani expatriates in Saudi Arabia and the economic impasse over Saudi investment in Pakistan.
“Given the Biden administration’s tough stance on Saudi Arabia, Riyadh cannot afford to outdo any allies at the moment – be they big or significant,” said Arhama Siddique, a research associate at the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad.
Siddique told Al Jazeera that the visit “represents the efforts of each side for a sustainable and mutually beneficial partnership”.
Kugelman said although Islamabad’s main goal would be to get financial support back from Riyadh: “The purpose of Khan’s visit is simple for both countries. To be able to say that the partnership has returned to the level field. “
The recent push
In recent years, relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have been strained after nearly a decade of economic, military and political cooperation.
In August last year, Pakistan accused the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), an organization of 577 Muslim-majority countries led by Saudi Arabia – of inaction over New Delhi’s decision to remove Indian-administered Kashmir from its special status in 2016.
As Kashmir is a key policy issue for Pakistan, he threatened to overtake the OIC by holding a rival meeting – a move that is seen as a challenge to Saudi Arabia’s leadership role in the Muslim world.
Riyadh responded by withdrawing 1 1 billion from a $ 3 billion interest-free loan extended to Pakistan in 2018, at a time when South Asian countries were suffering from severe economic conditions.
Although the matter spread within days, the diplomatic spot threatened the Islamabad-Riyadh alliance to take action.
Earlier, tensions escalated in 2015 over Pakistan’s refusal to send troops to the Saudi-led coalition’s war against Iran-led Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Despite the countries enjoying strong military ties, Pakistan chose to remain neutral in the war in Yemen, with Saudi Arabia providing regular military and military training.
‘Saudi war dragged on’
Commenting on Pakistan’s position, Kugelman told Al Jazeera: “Pakistan does not want to be dragged into the Saudi war, they do not want to be dragged into the Saudi-Iranian animosity.”
With the onset of the Qatar-Gulf crisis in 2017, relations have continued to grow as Pakistan has chosen to remain neutral.
In 2012, he also announced his participation in a summit in Malaysia that Saudi Arabia had not been invited to, where its opponents Iran, Turkey and Qatar would take part. Pakistan only withdrew from the summit after visiting the Khan state the day before the meeting.
These rafts were able to keep Pakistan’s spiritual India in the Gulf for a while, as it strengthened ties not only with Saudi Arabia, but also with the United Arab Emirates.
In recent years, Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in Indian infrastructure and oil projects, while India has also expanded its cooperation with Gulf countries in counter-terrorism efforts.
Nevertheless, strong Saudi-Pakistani relations are essential for both sides, analysts say.
“Pakistan-Saudi relations are synonymous with a marriage where divorce is not possible. Each party needs the other, “Siddique told Al Jazeera. “For Pakistan, the top priority is the need for Pakistani expatriates and foreign direct investment.”
With more than 2.5 million Pakistani expatriates in Saudi Arabia, their remittances are a significant part of the country’s foreign reserves.
In addition, the two countries have a strong trade relationship, which in 2012 totaled more than .7 1.7 billion. About 744 per cent of this comes from Pakistani oil imports from Saudi Arabia.
“Pakistan is a source of oil exports for Saudi Arabia [especially] In light of this Sino-Iranian agreementSiddique mentioned An agreement was signed in March China is expected to buy oil from Iran and invest in Iran in defiance of US sanctions.
Pakistan is therefore a strategic partner for Saudi Arabia, creating the possibility that India cannot fill its place.
“If they [Saudi Arabia] Moving Pakistan away will be to their own detriment, ”Siddique said.
Kugelman agreed: “For Pakistan, Saudi Arabia continues to be an important economic partner and strategic player,” referring to migrant workers and their remittances.
“Saudi Arabia sees Pakistan’s position as a politically important country on the border as a growing close friend of both Iran, Riyadh’s rival, and India.”
Kuezman said Khan’s visit set a stage for the restoration of Pakistan-Saudi relations and a new general “characteristic of relatively stable relations”, adding that relations were unlikely to return to normal.
Echoing similar sentiments, Afzal told Al Jazeera: “Saudi Arabia has shown that a large part of its close and growing economic ties with Kashmir and India are probably not willing to do more.
“This week’s visit will probably be an attempt to recover from this isolation and show solidarity with Pakistan, which has accepted the fact that they cannot expect the state to work on Kashmir.”