General Bajwa to visit Saudi Arabia on Sunday

By: News Desk      Published: 11:20 AM, 13 Aug, 2020
General Bajwa to visit Saudi Arabia on Sunday

Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa will visit Saudi Arabia Sunday to reduce diplomatic tensions generated by Pakistani accusations of Saudi indifference to India abolishing Kashmir's autonomous status in August 2019, reported Reuters and Middle East Forum on Thursday.

While Islamabad has long pressed the Saudi-headquartered Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to convene a high-level meeting to address recent developments in Occupied Kashmir, the OIC has hitherto only held low-level meetings. 

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi last week threatened to bypass the OIC: "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." 

Saudi Arabia reacted to Pakistani criticism by applying economic pressure, forcing Imran Khan's administration to repay $1 billion of a $3 billion 2018 loan – compelling Pakistan to borrow from China – and asking for an additional $1 billion back.

According to the Reuters, Pakistan’s army chief will visit Saudi Arabia, 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 Qamar Javed Bajwa’s planned fence-building visit on Sunday.

“Yes he is travelling,” Pakistan Army spokesman 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 alleged Indian violations in the part it controls.

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 Pakistani military officials and a government advisor said.

Saudi 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 a quarter of the 10 million expatriates working in Saudi Arabia.

Pakistani leader Imran Khan is also seeking to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran, after attacks on Gulf oil interests that Washington blamed on Tehran, though he said recently that was progressing slowly.