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

COAS Qamar Javed Bajwa will visit Saudi Arabia this weekend, seeking to calm diplomatic strains between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

COAS visit Saudi Arabia

Pakistan Chief of Army Staff COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa will visit Saudi Arabia this weekend, officials said, seeking to calm diplomatic strains over Kashmir as financial support for Islamabad hangs in the balance.

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

COAS to visit Saudi Arabia: attempt to reset ties?

But Riyadh is irked by criticism from Pakistan that Saudi Arabia has been lukewarm on the Kashmir territorial dispute, two senior military officials told Reuters, motivating General Bajwa’s planned fence-building visit on Sunday.

“Yes he is travelling,” ISPR chief Major General Babar Iftikhar told Reuters, though the official line was that the visit was pre-planned and “primarily military affairs oriented.”

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

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

Read more: Pakistan threatens alternative bloc if Kashmir issue not highlighted by OIC

“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,” Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told local media last week.

COAS visit to Saudi Arabia: Money at stake

Last year, Islamabad had pulled out of a Muslim nations forum at the last minute on insistence by Riyadh, which saw the gathering as an attempt to challenge its leadership of the OIC.

Qureshi’s remarks have revived Riyadh’s anger, one of the Pakistani military officials and a government adviser said.

Saudia Arabia had already made Pakistan pay back $1 billion two weeks ago, forcing it to borrow from another close ally China, and Riyadh is yet to respond to Pakistan’s request to extend the oil credit facility.

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

“The first year (of the oil credit facility) completed on 9th July 2020. Our request for an extension in the arrangement is under consideration with the Saudi side,” a finance ministry official told Reuters.

Saudi Arabia is also asking for another $1 billion back, officials at the finance ministry and one of the military officers said.

The Saudi government media office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

What happened between KSA and Pakistan?

Earlier, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in an unusually sharp warning asked Saudi Arabia-led Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Wednesday to stop dilly-dallying on the convening of a meeting of its Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) on Kashmir.

Appearing in a talk show on ARY News, the foreign minister said: “I am once again respectfully telling 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.”

Mr Qureshi said that if OIC fails to summon the CFM meeting, Pakistan would be ready to go for a session outside OIC. In response to another question, he said Pakistan could not wait any further.

Read more: OIC wants halt to Kashmir abuse by India

Pakistan has been pushing for the foreign ministers’ meeting of the 57-member bloc of Muslim countries, which is the second largest intergovernmental body after the UN, since India annexed occupied Kashmir last August.

Mr Qureshi had at an earlier presser explained the importance of CFM for Pakistan. He had then said that it was needed to send a clear message from Ummah on the Kashmir issue.

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.

GVS News Desk with additional input by other sources

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