ISLAMABAD: Saudi Defence Minister Mohammad bin Salman was upbeat after a brief stopover in Islamabad on his way to an extended East Asia trip.
Soon after his departure from Islamabad after a late-night meeting which continued into the early hours of Monday morning, he sent a ‘thank-you note’ to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, saying that his few hours in the Pakistani capital and military headquarters “underlined the depth of the strategic relationship between the two countries”.
He noted that his stay in Islamabad afforded him the opportunity to “discuss issues of common interest”.
The Saudi defence minister’s visit, the second this year, took place at a time when Riyadh was feeling pressure in its neighbourhood — particularly the setbacks in the 18-month-long conflict in Yemen, and growing prospects of US military cooperation with Russia, which backs President Assad, in Syria even though it is aimed against Al Qaeda and the militant Islamic State (IS) group.
Prince Mohammad bin Salman, according to a source, sought reassurances from its long-time ally in view of the changing geo-political situation.
The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) provided a broad outline of the minister’s agenda in Islamabad.
It said the Saudi defence minister, in his nearly half-hour long meeting with Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif, discussed “regional security with particular focus on the Middle East, and issues of bilateral relations, including defence cooperation and collaboration”.
Gen Raheel Sharif, dressed in full ceremonial gear, received the Saudi minister at the GHQ at about 1:45am.
Notwithstanding Islamabad’s refusal to become part of the Yemen war, Pakistan has an active security cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia under which about 1,000 Pakistani military advisers are serving there. Additionally, the Pakistani government has a standing commitment to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Saudi Arabia.
Although there were no new commitments in the public statement from the military, the Prime Minister Office in a statement said: “PM Sharif and Saudi defence minister pledged to further enhance the bilateral ties between the two brotherly countries and strengthen their cooperation in diverse fields.”
Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2016