If only Pakistani diplomacy was like Ertugrul drama series. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi is definitely not playing a warrior who can conquer nations with a sword. Or in his case, with words. Just ask the Pakistani Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa who now has to pick up the pieces and fix the mess Quereshi has created with Saudi Arabia.
There is loan, there is oil. And what is Pakistan without Saudi loans and oil? Well, there is always Kashmir, of course.
In a charged Kashmir-lost-and-not-found atmosphere on 5 August 2020, Quereshi threatened Saudi Arabia-led Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) that if Kashmir is not taken up at the ministerial level, then Pakistan will move forward “with or without” the Saudis. He was hinting at the Malaysian-Iranian-Turkish Muslim bloc that has been vocal on Kashmir post abrogation of Article 370 by India last year. His statement was a result of a year-long Pakistani frustration at not getting its way on Kashmir in the OIC because of India’s economic clout.
Pakistan was asked to repay $1billion of the Saudi loan, which it did by borrowing from China, but before Qureshi called it an economic favour to Saudi Arabia in the Covid-19 pandemic. Really? Pakistan donating money to Saudi Arabia is a bigger insult to the desert kingdom than forging another OIC without them. And, what’s worse, ARY News channel and its social media platforms censored foreign minister Qureshi by taking his comments down.
Pakistan, leader of Islamic ummah?
Pakistan nurses the grand delusion of being a self-proclaimed leader of Islamic ummah because it is a nuclear power. Pakistan believes it can mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia, or can even smooth things up between the US and Iran, or end the war in Yemen. Like how? When you don’t have a penny in the pocket but you want to take up others’ causes instead of fixing your own house.
But after Quereshi’s outburst against Saudi Arabia, will the free rides in the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s personal jet come to an end for Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan? Or will this incident be another slap on the wrist, like one in Kuala Lumpur last year for trying to be part of an Islamic coalition?
But the more important question is: will the other Islamic brother-countries, like Turkey or Malaysia, pick up the tab for self-styled leader of Muslim world, Pakistan, the way Saudis did?
The Pakistan-Saudi bonding
It was in 2018 that the cash-strapped government of Imran Khan was extended a $6.2 billion package by Saudi Arabia. This included $3 billion in loans and oil on deferred payments worth $3.2 billion. These deals were sealed during the much-hyped visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Pakistan last February. Now, Saudi Arabia has stopped the oil supply after the deferred payments deal expired.
For decades, Pakistan relied on Saudi Arabia financially and it used the religious and cultural front to boost those ties. During the February 2019 visit when the Imran-MBS bromance was peaking, PM himself had driven the crown prince from the airport. Khan had told MBS that he was so popular in Pakistan that he could win an election here. Lucky us. Not holding back in niceties, the Crown Prince declared himself an ambassador of Pakistan in Saudi Arabia. Couldn’t believe the nation’s luck. Later, both were seen in a horse-drawn carriage, giving an image of happily-ever-afters. But then, there are no happily-ever-afters in real life.
The Pakistani journalists who had put up the photo of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi as their Twitter display pictures to show solidarity were hounded by the Pakistani government agencies for leading a social media campaign against the royal Saudi guest. Those were the days. Pakistan couldn’t tolerate such insult to the Kingdom. PM Imran Khan had his priorities clear: Pakistan was desperate and the government needed Saudi loans to avoid defaulting. Khan had attended the 2018 Riyadh investment summit even when several others had dropped out.
Every country watches its own political and economic interests first, but for some strange reason, Pakistan thinks every country should put their ‘Kashmir banega Pakistan’ interest first.
Muslim lives matter, but not in China
Imran Khan and his government stays silent over the persecution of Uighurs Muslims in China. Khan chooses to turn the other way saying: ‘Frankly, I don’t know much about it’. The reason for Pakistan’s silence over Uighurs is simple: China is a benefactor, you cannot offend China. Pakistan is indebted to China so the passion for ‘Muslim lives matter’ doesn’t apply here. Unfortunately, that is how human rights issues work.
Similarly, Saudi Arabia has economic interests in India. For Saudis, India is a viable economic partner, not a country that depends on it for bailout packages. And that Saudi Arabia is India’s fourth-largest trade partner doesn’t help Pakistan’s cause either. Same applies to Gulf countries, like the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, who also by the way, have generously extended loans to Pakistan. But the claims that Imran Khan would never ask for bheek and prefer to commit suicide over it never stand because that is exactly what Pakistan has done for survival. Beggars can’t be equal partners.
The author is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.
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