In­flu­ence

Southasia - - NEIGHBOR -

Pak­istan is seek­ing Saudi sup­port in ne­go­ti­a­tions on the Free Trade Agree­ment (FTA) with the Pak-Gulf Co­op­er­a­tion Coun­cil which will pro­vide mar­kets to Pak­istani goods in the Arab states but there is lit­tle progress on this. The re­cent grant of the Gen­er­al­ized Sys­tem of Pref­er­ences (GSP) Plus sta­tus to Pak­istan by the EU should now nudge Saudi Ara­bia to­wards a de­ci­sion as Pak­istan gen­uinely de­sires to re-ori­en­tate its econ­omy from aid to trade.

As per me­dia re­ports, Pak­istan was also likely to seek Riyadh’s sup­port to bro­ker a peace agree­ment with the Tehreek-e-Tal­iban Pak­istan (TTP). The TTP has so far shown only half­hearted will­ing­ness to en­ter into ne­go­ti­a­tions with Pak­istan, though the in­te­rior min­is­ter in­sists that some sort of be­hind-the-scenes con­tacts is tak­ing place.

Global diplo­macy, these days, is heav­ily in­ter­de­pen­dent and there is no harm, per se, in ask­ing as­sis­tance from friends and al­lies, but it is also quite ob­vi­ous that, like in most other fields, we have had a huge fall from the days of Sir Chaud­hary Za­farul­lah Khan, when as head of Pak­istan’s del­e­ga­tion, he ar­tic­u­lately ad­vo­cated the po­si­tion of the Mus­lim world on the Pales­tine is­sue and, as the coun­try’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the UNSC, he ad­vo­cated lib­er­a­tion of not only Kash­mir but Libya, North­ern Ire­land, Ire­land, Eritrea, So­ma­lia, Sudan, Tu­nisia, Morocco and In­done­sia. Some ca­pac­ity build­ing in our for­eign of­fice is there­fore called for to be able to launch ef­fec­tive diplo­macy rather than over-de­pen­dence on oth­ers for sup­port.

In 2009, Hil­lary Clin­ton called Saudi Ara­bia ‘ a fi­nan­cial base’ for fund­ing ter­ror­ism. It has, how­ever, been lucky to largely re­main un­scathed from the fall­out of 9/11 when 15 out of 19 hi­jack­ers were said to be from Saudi Ara­bia, un­like Pak­istan which continues to suf­fer even though it had noth­ing to do with that tragedy what­so­ever.

Whether or not Saudi Ara­bia will oblige Pak­istan on this count is hard to say since it is vy­ing for a favourable bal­ance of power in the re­gion be­tween the Sun­nis and the Shi­ites and is ex­ten­sively en­gaged with Iran in that cause on Pak­istani soil. No gain­say­ing. Pak­istan needs to take up this is­sue with Iran also to dras­ti­cally shrink, if not elim­i­nate al­to­gether, the bat­tle space oc­cu­pied by these two friendly coun­tries in pur­suit of their ob­jec­tives.

Dur­ing his visit, Saud Al-Faisal stated that it is against his coun­try’s for­eign pol­icy to in­ter­fere in other coun­tries’ af­fairs but there have been wide­spread re­ports of in­fil­tra­tion by Al-Qaeda el­e­ments in the Syr­ian op­po­si­tion, al­legedly spon­sored by Saudi Ara­bia. It is true that Saudi Ara­bia has fought Al-Qaeda do­mes­ti­cally, but the world has no­ticed that it has sel­dom, if ever, de­nounced the havoc wreaked by this ter­ror or­ga­ni­za­tion be­yond its own borders.

If the Saudis adopt a sim­i­lar po­si­tion in Afghanistan in the post-2014 sce­nario, it could suck Pak­istan fur­ther into a whirlpool of un­pre­dictable events which is un­de­sir­able. It is also in Saudi Ara­bia’s in­ter­est to dis­tance it­self from the ide­ol­ogy of Al-Qaeda, since in fu­ture, there is likely to be even less global tol­er­ance for its ag­gres­sive sup­port for a stern ver­sion of Is­lam if the po­lit­i­cal changes now un­der­way in the re­gion get per­ma­nent trac­tion and de­pen­dence of the U.S. and the west on fos­sil fuel drops, with ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy which is en­vis­aged in a decade from now.

In­ter­est­ingly, the cur­rent rulers in Pak­istan, who find it dif­fi­cult to en­gage the Tal­iban at home, have of­fered to bridge the gap be­tween Iran and Saudi Ara­bia – a much tougher nut to crack. Be­sides this, re­gional pol­i­tics is evolv­ing at a much faster pace than Pak­istan’s ca­pac­ity to han­dle it. Iran’s pos­si­ble emer­gence as an im­por­tant re­gional player is di­rectly in pro­por­tion to Saudi Ara­bia’s de­clin­ing sig­nif­i­cance in the ‘re­di­rect­ion’ of U.S.’ re­gional poli­cies as ev­i­dent from its ac­tions in Egypt and Syria, which are at vari­ance with Saudi’s in­ter­ests. Saudi Ara­bia has raised the stakes by ex­tend­ing U.S. $ 3 bil­lion to Le­banon and court­ing France for a smooth sale of mil­i­tary hard­ware aimed at weak­en­ing Hezbol­lah, a close ally of Iran.

The fail­ure of Saudi Ara­bia’s ag­gres­sive diplo­macy to wean Rus­sia away from sup­port­ing Syria has fur­ther added to its wor­ries. The re­cent ter­ror­ist at­tack in Vol­gograd, just ahead of the Sochi Win­ter Games, has caused con­cern in Moscow where Pres­i­dent Putin is de­ter­mined to show­case this event as a sign of a re-emerg­ing Rus­sia. Whether or not there is a nexus be­tween North Cau­cus and Al-Qaeida el­e­ments in the Syr­ian op­po­si­tion in this in­ci­dent, the sus­pi­cion is poi­son­ing Saudi-Rus­sian re­la­tions.

De­fense col­lab­o­ra­tion was an­other sub­ject dis­cussed dur­ing the Saudi For­eign Min­is­ter’s visit whose con­tours re­main un­de­fined. It is quite ob­vi­ous that if Iran breaks out with a nu­clear bomb, it will be po­lit­i­cally un­ac­cept­able for the king­dom not to have one. The Guardian news­pa­per has al­ready spec­u­lated that in such an even­tu­al­ity, Saudi Ara­bia will en­deav­our to ac­quire one from China or Pak­istan or a pledge from Pak­istan for nu­clear cover.

Saudi Ara­bia is a broth­erly coun­try and Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif en­joys close re­la­tions with the Saudi rulers. But what­ever else he may do to strengthen mu­tual re­la­tions, he would do well to guard against two pit­falls: dis­cour­age any fur­ther drift to­wards ex­trem­ist re­li­gious ide­ol­ogy and steer clear of any nu­clear ar­range­ments with Saudi Ara­bia as that would not only cause Pak­istan fur­ther prob­lems glob­ally but also em­bar­rass China which, in the face of all odds, has taken some bold steps to ad­dress the coun­try’s en­ergy needs through new nu­clear re­ac­tors. The writer is a re­tired vice ad­mi­ral and for­mer vice chief of naval staff of the Pak­istan Navy.

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