Don’t read too much into it, says Pak army on Gen Bajwa’s Saudi mission

Pakistan army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa will soon travel to Saudi Arabia, a senior military official said on Thursday, confirming the visit that is seen as an effort by the Imran Khan government to mend ties with the kingdom is on the cards.

Major General Babar Iftikhar, the spokesperson for Pakistan’s military, insisted that Gen Bajwa’s visit was a pre-planned tour linked to “military-to-military relations” between the two countries.

“There is no need to read too much into it,” he told reporters at his briefing, describing relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as “historic, important and good”. “Nobody can doubt the centrality of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to islamic world,” the military spokesperson said in response to a question. A Reuters report quoting military officials said the visit will take place this weekend but there was no independent confirmation from Riyadh.

The visit is widely seen as an effort by Islamabad to repair ties with Saudi Arabia that has been upset at the Imran Khan government badgering Riyadh to convene a meeting of foreign ministers of the Organisation of Islamic Conference to target India over Kashmir.

Foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi crossed the red line last week when he asked OIC to “stop dilly-dallying” and set a deadline for the Saudi-led grouping of 57 Islamic countries. “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,” Shah Mahmood Qureshi told a Pakistani news channel last week.

The remark did not go down well with the Saudi leadership which had made Pakistan pay back $1 billion two weeks ago, forcing Islamabad to borrow from China instead. The Saudis are yet to respond to Pakistan’s request for a $3.2bn oil credit facility, part of a $6.2bn package announced in 2018.

Analysts have said that the Pakistan military leadership enjoys better relations with the Saudi leadership than the country’s political leaders.

Saudi Arabia is also asking for another $1bn back, putting pressure on Pakistan’s fragile foreign exchange reserves. But the bigger blow would be if the Saudi government starts to send back the approximately 2.5 million Pakistanis who live and work in the Kingdom.

If need be, officials have privately said that the Pakistan Foreign Minister may be removed from his position in a bid to normalise relations with the Saudi leadership.

The Pakistan foreign minister has twice postponed his press conference to explain his remarks in a bid to placate Saudi Arabia, the last on Tuesday.

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