Pakistan’s army chief will visit Saudi Arabia this weekend, officials said, trying to ease diplomatic tensions on Kashmir as financial support for Islamabad hangs in the balance.
The two countries are historically similar, and in 2018, Saudi Arabia provided Pakistan with $3 billion in loans and $3.2 billion in oil credit to support its balance of payments crisis.
Yet Riyadh is frustrated by Pakistan’s allegations that Saudi Arabia has been lukewarm about the Kashmir territorial dispute, two senior military officials told Reuters, prompting General Qamar Javed Bajwa ‘s expected fence-building visit on Sunday.
“Yes he is travelling,” said Pakistan Army spokesman Major General Babar Iftikhar, though the official line was that the visit was pre-planned and “primarily military affairs oriented.”
India and Pakistan have fought three wars over the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir, which both claim in full.
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 part it controls.
But the OIC has only held low-level meetings so far.
“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,” Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told local media last week.
MONEY AT STAKE
Last year, at the last minute, Islamabad pulled out of the Muslim nations’ forum on Riyadh’s insistence, which saw the meeting as an effort to question its leadership of the OIC.
Qureshi’s remarks revived Riyadh’s wrath, said one of Pakistan’s military officials and a government advisor.
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.
“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 Pakistani finance ministry official told Reuters.
Saudi Arabia is also asking for another $1 billion back, officials at Pakistan’s finance ministry and one of the military officers said. The Saudi government media office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Pakistanis account for more than one quarter of the 10 million expatriates employed in Saudi Arabia.
Pakistani leader Khan has also been trying to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran, following attacks on Gulf oil interests that Washington has blamed on Tehran, even though he has recently said that progress has been slow.