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Pak Army, ISI chiefs in Saudi Arabia on damage control trip

After Pakistan flexed its muscles and expressed disregard over the performance of the Saudi-led Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on the Kashmir dispute, and Saudi Arabia's subsequent rigid response and immediate demand for return of its financial aid to the cash-strapped Pakistan, Islamabad's powerful military establishment is in Riyadh to mend the strained ties on a damage control trip.

Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa along with head of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed are in Riyadh to meet the Saudi leadership in an effort to fix the ties between the two countries.

"During the meetings, they discussed prospects of military cooperation and ways to boost it as well as other topics of common interest," read a statement of the Saudi Ministry of Defence.

The trip holds importance as it comes after Saudi Arabia reacted to the statement by Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who raised serious questions over the OIC on the Kashmir issue, threatening to hold a conference of foreign ministers from Muslim countries in another country without the cooperation of the OIC.

The statement saw an angry response from the Saudi leadership, which put a halt to the $3.2 billion oil credit facility that was provided to Pakistan in 2018, along with a demand for a return of $3 billion loan that it banked in Pakistan as a bailout package.

Sources in the military establishment have told IANS that while both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have close ties traditionally, "Riyadh is irked by criticism from Pakistan that Saudi Arabia has been lukewarm on the Kashmir issue, which has motivated the army chief's planned visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."

Since August 5, 2019, when the Narendra Modi-led government in India abrogated Articles 370 and 35A, which granted special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan has been pressing on the Saudi Arabia-led OIC to convene a high-level meeting to highlight what it calls "Indian violations in Jammu and Kashmir". But the OIC has only held a low-level meeting till date.

On August 5, 2020, Pakistan Foreign Minister Qureshi had once again demanded that the OIC should hold a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers on Kashmir. However, this time, he added that if the OIC didn't respond positively to Pakistan's demand, it would hold the meeting with Muslim countries without the cooperation of 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 which are ready to stand with us on the issue of Kashmir and support the oppressed Kashmiris," Qureshi had said.

Qureshi's statement attracted criticism from the opposition parties, which termed the remarks as "irresponsible".

"Qureshi's statement about brotherly Saudi Arabia is highly unfortunate and irresponsible. It flies in the face of the history of our special and trusted relationship with the Kingdom," said leader of the opposition and head of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Shahbaz Sharif.

"The cavalier attitude by this government is undermining Pakistan's core relations with friendly countries," he added..