Amid strained relations, Pakistan’s army chief arrives in Saudi Arabia

Riyadh is irked by criticism from Pakistan that Saudi Arabia has been lukewarm on the Kashmir issue, motivating the army chief's planned visit.

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Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday, the Pakistan embassy in Riyadh said, amid a diplomatic spat that has threatened Riyadh’s financial life line to the country.

Bajwa arrived in Riyadh at 10am, the embassy said. The head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), General Faiz Hameed, is accompanying Bajwa.

The two countries are traditionally close and Saudi Arabia in 2018 gave Pakistan a $3 billion loan and $3.2bn oil credit facility to help its balance of payments crisis.

But Riyadh is irked by criticism from Pakistan that Saudi Arabia has been lukewarm on the Kashmir issue, two senior military officials had told Reuters, motivating the army chief’s planned visit.

Last week, the military’s media affairs wing had confirmed that the COAS was travelling, though the official line was that the visit was pre-planned and “primarily military affairs oriented”.

Read more: Shah Mehmood Qureshi call to OIC: Pakistanis hails no more compromise on self-respect

Pakistan has long pressed the Saudi-led Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) to convene a high-level meeting to highlight Indian violations in occupied Kashmir.

But the OIC has only held low-level meetings so far.

Pakistani foreign minister’s strong statements 

On August 5, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had said: “I am once again respectfully telling the OIC that a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers is our expectation.

“If you cannot convene it, then I’ll be compelled to ask Prime Minister Imran Khan to call a meeting of the Islamic countries that are ready to stand with us on the issue of Kashmir and support the oppressed Kashmiris.”

Qureshi said that Pakistan had skipped the Kuala Lumpur Summit last December on Saudi Arabia’s request and now Pakistani Muslims were demanding Riyadh “show leadership on the issue”.

Read more: OIC wants halt to Kashmir abuse by India

“We have our own sensitivities. You have to realise this. Gulf countries should understand this,” the foreign minister had said, adding that he could no more indulge in diplomatic niceties.

He had made it clear that he was not being emotional and fully understood the implications of his statement. “It’s right, I’m taking a position despite our good ties with Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Although there has been a meeting of the contact group on Kashmir on the sidelines of UN General Assembly session in New York since last August and OIC’s Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission has made statements on the rights abuses in the occupied valley, but no progress could be made towards the CFM meeting.

The Foreign Office (FO) had later defended the minister’s remarks, saying his was a reflection of people’s aspirations and expectations from the OIC to raise the Kashmir issue internationally.

Speaking at a weekly press briefing, the FO spokesperson had said that the people of Pakistan had more expectations from the OIC and would like it to play a leading role in raising the Kashmir issue internationally.

Read more: General Bajwa heads to Saudi Arabia: an attempt to undo the damage?

Criticism from opposition 

However, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif had criticised Qureshi’s remarks, calling them “highly unfortunate and irresponsible”.

In a tweet, the PML-N president had said: “Qureshi’s statement about brotherly Saudi Arabia is highly unfortunate & irresponsible. It flies in the face of history of our special & trusted relationship with the kingdom.

“The cavalier attitude by this government is undermining Pakistan’s core relations with friendly countries!”

Reuters with additional input by GVS News Desk

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