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Will Saudi Arabia change its stance on Kashmir as Imran Khan tries to mend ties with Riyadh?

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Imran Khan’s government in Pakistan is trying to reestablish ties with Saudi Arabia, which hit a low last year. Does this mean that Riyadh will change its position on Kashmir?

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As Pakistani-Saudi relations struggled in 2020, New Delhi and Riyadh strengthened their ties and pledged to work together in various sectors. Throughout this time, Islamabad’s rhetoric over Kashmir has found no takers among its allies, including Saudi Arabia.

In August 2020, cracks appeared in relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia after Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi called on the Riyadh-led Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to stop chatting about the convening of a meeting of its Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) on Kashmir.

Then again in October, Saudi Arabia refused to allow the Pakistani mission in the country to observe October 27 as a “black day”. Pakistan observes October 27 as the “Black Day” to mark the anniversary of the day (October 27, 1947) of Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to India.

However, now that ties have returned to normal between Islamabad and Riyadh, experts speculate that Pakistan would like Saudi Arabia to support it on the Kashmir issue, which is unlikely, however.

Latest developments

In what is seen as Pakistan’s balance between the Saudi Arabian bloc and the Turkish bloc, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi recently traveled to Egypt to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al- Sissi, his counterpart Sameh Shoukry and the secretary general of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit at the headquarters of the organization.

Pleasure to meet FM #SamehShoukry. The relationship between Pakistan and Egypt is one of mutual trust and cooperation. FM Shoukry and I discussed ways to develop our links, with greater contacts, exchanges and lasting commitment. Looking forward to welcoming FM Shoukry on pic.twitter.com/saQaqGxLD4

– Shah Mahmood Qureshi (@SMQureshiPTI) February 17, 2021

The visit is seen as Pakistan’s broader efforts to reestablish ties with the Saudi bloc. Last year, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates asked Pakistan to repay $ 4 billion in loans taken out in 2018. The United Arab Emirates also suspended the issuance of work visas to Pakistani nationals, the country being heavily dependent on remittances from nationals working in the Middle East. .

All of these pressure tactics seem to have worked, because after Qureshis recent trip to Cairo, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates each renewed billion dollar loans to Islamabad. In addition, plans for a $ 10 billion Saudi Aramco oil refinery in the Pakistani port city of Gwadar appeared to be moving forward.

Pakistanis’ relations with the Turkey-Iran-Malaysia bloc, which challenges Saudi Arabia’s leadership in the Muslim world, will not be affected by these developments, experts say. Lukasz Przybyszewski, West Asia analyst at the Warsaw Academy of War Studies Asia Research Center, told Nikkei Asia:

Islamabad takes a multi-track approach in which new ventures and joint economic agreements with Turkey and Iran, such as a rail project involving Islamabad, Tehran and Istanbul, and a gas pipeline between Iran and Pakistan, aim to balance its relations with Saudi Arabia. and Egypt.

Chinese interest at stake?

There is also speculation that improved ties between Riyadh and Islamabad have occurred following the change of administration in the United States. President Joe Biden has announced that the United States will no longer support the Saudi-led war in Yemen and that arms sales to the kingdom have been suspended.

With the change in US policy in the Middle East, Riyadh could move towards the Chinese camp and for Riyadh, the road to Beijing goes through a friendly Islamabad, writes analyst Syed Fazl-e-Haider for Lowy Institute.

The expert points out that there is already a basis for a strong Sino-Saudi strategic partnership, with China helping to expand its nuclear program. As the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the kingdom’s economy, with China being the world’s largest importer of crude oil, Saudi Arabia can help.

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