ISLAMABAD: While Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif assured visiting Saudi Defence Minister Mohammad bin Salman on Sunday of “strong response” to threats to his country’s territorial integrity, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called for resolving its crisis with Iran through diplomacy and offered Pakistan’s good offices in this regard.
“Pakistan has historically pursued the policy of promoting brotherhood among member states of the OIC. Pakistan has also always expressed its readiness to offer its good offices to brotherly Muslim countries for resolution of their differences,” the prime minister was quoted by his office as having told the Saudi deputy crown prince.
Prince Mohammad met the army chief and the prime minister during his seven-hour stay here. Defence Minister Khawaja Asif received him at the airport, but curiously there was no counterpart meeting.
The Saudi prince, whose visit came close on the heels of one by Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir, was reportedly here to find out how Pakistan could militarily assist his country.
The prime minister recalled the “historical, cultural, and religious” ties and reiterated the established commitment of standing with the “people of Saudi Arabia” in case of any threat to its territorial integrity, while also stressing the need for peacefully resolving the conflict.
PM offers Saudi prince help to diplomatically resolve crisis with Iran
In his meeting with the Saudi minister at the General Headquarters, the army chief delivered a stronger message — probably offering the visiting leader the sound bite that he came looking for.
Gen Sharif, according to ISPR, “re-asserted that any threat to Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity would evoke a strong response from Pakistan”.
Negotiations between GHQ and Saudi officials on defence cooperation preceded Prince Mohammad’s visit. The discussions are being kept highly secret.
Although it is publicly unknown what the military has committed to the Saudis, Gen Sharif found it enough to say that the defence relationship with the country was held “in highest esteem”.
Amid speculations on the matter, a government source was reported as saying that the military had committed deployment of troops in Saudi Arabia.
However, the claim could not be verified and military spokesman Lt Gen Asim Bajwa was unavailable for comments because he is out of the country.
Defence Minister Mohammad told Gen Sharif that his country would extend “full support to Pakistan’s position on all matters”.
The execution this month of Saudi Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir Al Nimr and the subsequent reaction from Iran, including storming of the Saudi embassy in Tehran, sparked the crisis in the already tense relationship between the two countries. Saudi Arabia responded by cutting off its diplomatic relations with Iran and many of its Arab allies followed suit.
Foreign Minister Jubeir said after a special session of the Gulf Cooperation Council a day earlier that Saudi Arabia was mulling additional steps against Iran, but Defence Minister Mohammad hinted in a media interview that confrontation would not be allowed to escalate into an all-out war.
Besides discussing the tensions with Iran, the Saudi prince was also here to promote a counter-terrorism coalition, which is said to be his brainchild.
Prime Minister Sharif welcomed the initiative and reaffirmed support for the coalition of ‘like-minded Islamic countries’.
“Pakistan supports efforts to counter terrorism and extremism,” he said in his meeting with the visiting minister.
“The two leaders agreed to strengthen bilateral relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and deepen the cooperation in all fields, including defence, security, fight against terrorism, trade and investment and meeting manpower requirements of the kingdom,” the official statement said.
It was also agreed that the two countries would cooperate in developing an effective counter-narrative to defeat the extremist mindset.
Published in Dawn, January 11th, 2016