ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Saudi Arabia announced on Monday a common regional view which signified growing centrality of Riyadh in Islamabad’s foreign and security policies.

A joint declaration issued at the conclusion of Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud’s three-day visit briefly touched on the steps the two countries would take to fortify their relationship but was explicit about an understanding achieved on the regional issues from Syria to Afghanistan.

During his meeting with the visiting leader Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that “Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have brotherly relations and have similar views on regional as well as international matters”.

The striking similarity in the regional view enunciated in the declaration was Pakistan’s shifting position on Syria.

Islamabad apparently not only abandoned its longstanding position of not interfering in other countries’ internal affairs, but also adopted a posture that is divergent with the policy being pursued by its most important regional ally — Beijing.

Iran and Russia are also likely to feel uneasy with the new policy that explicitly asks Syrian President Bashar Al Assad for “formation of transitional governing body”.

Other goals that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will pursue are “lifting of siege of the Syrian towns and villages; stopping of aerial and artillery bombardment; and setting up of safe corridors and regions to deliver food and humanitarian aid to besieged Syrian citizens, under international supervision”.

Much of this is in line with a draft resolution introduced in the UN Security Council last week.

Pakistan had so far maintained a neutral position on Syria, expressing concern over the humanitarian situation and seeking resolution of the dispute through internal political dynamics.

The declaration called for withdrawal of “all foreign armed forces and elements”. Russia maintains a naval base in Tartus, while Iran is accused of maintaining Quds Force and backing Hezbollah’s activities there. Fighters from other countries have joined the ranks of rebels.

On Kashmir, Afghanistan and Palestine, the statement was more of a reiteration of the already stated policy.

Both countries recommitted their support for political process in Afghanistan through elections to be held later this year and called for all-inclusive intra-Afghan reconciliation.

Saudi Arabia said it “hoped” for a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir issue in accordance with UN resolutions and “welcomed the positive developments in Indo-Pakistan relations”.

The Saudis clearly avoided categorical language on the Kashmir issue, which could put it at odds with India.

The two sides resolved to continue supporting the Palestine cause and seeking the issue’s resolution in accordance with Arab peace initiatives and the relevant UN Resolutions.

The declaration showed an agreement between the two sides for countering extremism and terrorism. For this they agreed on continuing “exchange of security related information”.

Cooperation for combating drug trafficking and money laundering was also agreed upon.

The two sides decided to devise an institutional mechanism for consultations between their foreign ministries for fortifying their political relations.

The declaration mentioned intensification of defence ties, but gave no details. It is being speculated that the two countries may collaborate in defence production and enhance the military training exchange programme. Pakistan’s defence industries are also expected to get a major order from Saudi Arabia.

The crown prince held extensive meetings with Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Chairman Gen Rashad Mehmood and Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif.

Statements issued by the Saudi side on the two meetings said defence relations and cooperation between the two countries and matters of common concern were reviewed.

According to APP, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia signed two agreements under which the latter will provide around $183 million for import of urea fertiliser from Saudi Arabia and for construction of a hydropower project in Chitral.

The signing ceremony was witnessed by Prime Minister Sharif and the Saudi crown prince. The Saudi Development Fund’s Vice-Chairman Yousef bin Ibrahim Al Bassam and Economic Affairs Secretary Nargis Sethi signed the agreements.

Saudi Arabia will provide a credit facility of $125m for the import of urea fertiliser and an additional loan of $57.8m for the construction of the 106MW Golen Gol project on River Mastuj in Chitral.

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