COAS to visit Saudi Arabia in quest to smooth ties

Updated 13 Aug 2020

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“Yes he is travelling,” ISPR chief Major General Babar Iftikhar told Reuters, though the official line was that the visit was pre-planned and “primarily military affairs oriented.” — AP/File
“Yes he is travelling,” ISPR chief Major General Babar Iftikhar told Reuters, though the official line was that the visit was pre-planned and “primarily military affairs oriented.” — AP/File

Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa will visit Saudi Arabia this weekend, officials said, seeking to calm diplomatic strains over Kashmir as financial support for Islamabad hangs in the balance.

The two countries are traditionally close and Saudi Arabia in 2018 gave Pakistan a $3 billion loan and $3.2 billion oil credit facility to help its balance of payments crisis.

But Riyadh is irked by criticism from Pakistan that Saudi Arabia has been lukewarm on the Kashmir territorial dispute, two senior military officials told Reuters, motivating General Bajwa’s planned fence-building visit on Sunday.

“Yes he is travelling,” ISPR chief Major General Babar Iftikhar told Reuters, though the official line was that the visit was pre-planned and “primarily military affairs oriented.”

Pakistan has long pressed the Saudi-led Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) to convene a high-level meeting to highlight Indian violations in occupied Kashmir.

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,” Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told local media last week.

Money at stake

Last year, Islamabad had pulled out of a Muslim nations forum at the last minute on insistence by Riyadh, which saw the gathering as an attempt to challenge its leadership of the OIC.

Qureshi’s remarks have revived Riyadh’s anger, one of the military officials and a government adviser said.

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 finance ministry official told Reuters.

Saudi Arabia is also asking for another $1 billion back, officials at the finance ministry and one of the military officers said.

The Saudi government media office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.