As Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan cosies up to Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leaving the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia fuming; the powerful Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa rushes to Riyadh to placate Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who has withheld loans that Pakistan needs to keeping its economy running.
Sources in Islamabad told IANS that Gen Bajwa is visiting Riyadh to do the balancing act after Pakistan's recent threats to split the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and its diplomatic shift towards Erdogan who nurtures the ambition of replacing Saudi Arabia as the leader of Sunni Islamic nations.
Hit by a severe economic crisis, Pakistan had borrowed $6.2 billion from Saudi Arabia in 2018. The loan package included a provision under which Saudi Arabia granted Pakistan $3.2 billion worth of oil, a year on deferred payments.
However, Saudi Arabia has halted the provision of oil on loan for Pakistan after the Imran Khan government threatened to split the OIC over Kashmir.
The Pakistan Army has attempted to invade Jammu & Kashmir four times in the last seven decades and has been waging a proxy war against India for the last three decades. Since August last year, when India revoked special status of J&K state and brought it directly under the control of the central government, the Imran Khan government has been seeking support from the 57-member OIC, the biggest bloc of Islamic countries in the world.
Recently Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi during a talk show on a Pakistani news channel had threatened that if the OIC headed by Saudi Arabia did not convene a foreign ministers' meeting on Kashmir, Prime Minister Imran Khan would hold it on his own with his allies among the Islamic nations.
One of the major reasons for OIC's lack of support for Pakistan has been Riyadh's displeasure with Islamabad's proximity with Turkey's Erdogan who has been openly challenging the Saudi kingdom's leadership. Last year, Malaysia's then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad hosted a summit on the future of the ï¿½Muslim Ummah' with Turkey's President and Pakistan's Prime Minister as main speakers.
Though Khan, cancelled his trip at the last minute but the message went out to Riyadh that Turkey-Pakistan-Malaysia were attempting to build a new Muslim bloc, challenging its leadership. Pakistan's conundrum now is that on the one hand, its deeply troubled economy requires massive funds from Saudi Arabia, in addition to the loans it has already taken from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and on the other hand, the Pakistani military which has been waging a proxy war in the name of Islam and the ï¿½Muslim Ummah' in Kashmir, has lost its leverage against India.
Sources said Bajwa has gone to Riyadh to "pretend that Pakistan is neutral and try to squeeze billions of dollars from MBS so that the Pakistan Army's power and significance remains intact in Islamabad. But it is clear a new Islamic axis of Turkey, Pakistan, Malaysia plus Iran, is emerging as a bloc against Saudi Arabia, in an alliance with China and Russia against the US-Israel-Saudi Arabia partnership in the Middle East."
Though Turkey itself has been one among the first Muslim countries to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, and shares a good trade relationship with the Jewish state, the Palestinian issue rhetorically brings together most Muslim countries and the Ummah. However, the UAE recently, in a major shift, announced to normalise its diplomatic ties with Israel.
"There is a major tussle in Islamabad right now. Pakistan's ordinary citizens fear China and the Chinese because we know they will not spare us if we fail to pay our loans. But the Pakistan Army has joined hands with Beijing only to sustain the luxurious and pampered life our military is used to. If common people had any say, Pakistan would still align with Saudi Arabia, the leader of the Muslim world and the US," said a Karachi businessman who did not want to be named..