A major thaw in relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia has been witnessed after many divergences– over a period of one year– as Prime Minister Imran Khan is back in KSA.
Geo-political compulsions have their own irrational logic to force changes in the nuances and postures of a country. This is what is happening with the calculus of the KSA.
The foremost issue is Iran. Tehran is unstoppable to go nuclear. The dynamic is that it knows the fate of Iraq, Libya, and Ukraine who were punished without credible deterrence. So without WMD, no insurance for survival.
Though Israel is only a strategic threat to Iranian intention and effort to get nuclear capability which will unlikely deter Tehran, returning to JCPOA by Tehran & the US, suits both countries as a convenience at this stage since it is a relief from sanctions and draws a curtain on neo-conservative ideas of regime change, respectively.
Anyway, inking any agreement with the US means nothing as either party can withdraw as proven by Trump Admin which backtracked from JCPOA, two years ago.
Thus this assessment meaningfully is impacting the strategic calculus of the KSA. And this is where Pakistan can help if the KSA seeks to go nuclear, Islamabad may be handy to assist though this potential convergence may never be acknowledged.
New geopolitical reality for Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia and the entire Middle East are learning to adjust to the new geopolitical reality: the US’ steady retrenchment from the region. Thus Riyadh is on a new diplomatic offensive to offset any loss in security and strategic realms.
Given this dynamic, the KSA has already started negotiations with Syria, engaged Turkey, established some communication with Israel towards some degree of normalization, rehabilitated ties with Qatar, and attempted to resolve the intractable Yemen crisis by militarily disengaging. Now the KSA and Pakistan relations are put back on track.
From a broader perspective, why the KSA has normalized its relations with Pakistan is because of how and where Pakistan impacts Riyadh’s geopolitical/strategic interests: Afghanistan; India; Muslim world; Nuclear technology; Internal security of Royals; Iran; US South Asia and West Asia policy; Indian Ocean Maritime route; OIC; China; Proxy warfares; GCC stability; Terrorism; and BRI/CPEC.
Possible India-Pakistan detente
Also, this new warmth for Riyadh and Islamabad is important for another reason; the KSA has joined UAE for the expected big regional breakthrough–a lot of hard work, sweat, and time invested went into the culmination of months of preparation-ie, possible India-Pakistan detente.
It may not be immediately announced due to public backlash. Yet Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Quarashi has, for the first time admitted publicly “backchannel talks” between India and Pakistan at intel levels. Had there been no progress, he would not have admitted it, in the first place.
But both governments, ie, India and Pakistan, have been avoiding any sudden progress, after a prolonged backchannel, as a breakthrough will be lost without taking public opinions and relevant constituencies of the two respective countries on board.
But Pakistan has already sought a “strategic pause” in relations with India so that it can focus on domestic issues, particularly its weak economy and Afghanistan imbroglio. Also, it may be a “respite” for US pressure on the Afghan front and increasing Delhi-Washington’s nexus against China which is resulting in the heat for Islamabad.
Another operative mechanism, which is important for the execution of economic projects like the $20 billion refinery project (the Saudi government already announced), has also been established after the summit.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood said that a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Prime Minister and the Crown Prince, which would lead to the establishment of a high-level Liaison Council between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. A “structured engagement plan” has been drawn up, he added.
Saudi labor market and remittances are critical for Pakistan’s economy. According to the Saudi Crown Prince, he will need ten million manpower over the next ten years to implement his vision, most of which will come from Pakistan which is great news for the latter’s market needs.
But the evolving US geopolitical posture in the region and beyond are largely driving the new nuanced understanding between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia which is mainly concerned with Iran and India.
Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst, a politician from Baluchistan, an ex-advisor to the Baluchistan Government on media and strategic communication. He remained associated with BBC World Service. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.