Pakistan, Saudi Arabia have made peace after Yemen war rift: US security expert

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Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have resumed friendly relations after the ‘somewhat cool’ period when Pakistan refused earlier this year to be part of the Saudi war in Yemen, according to Bruce Riedel, a former senior advisor on South Asia and the Middle East to the last four presidents of the United States.

Last week, Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif visited Riyadh and held meetings with King Salman, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef and Defense Minister Prince Muhammad bin Salman, ending what the Saudi media dubbed as the ‘somewhat cool’ period.

Earlier in April, Pakistani parliament had unanimously decided against sending troops to join the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

The two countries have for years enjoyed very close relations with Pakistan sending thousands of soldiers to the Kingdom in the 1980s to counter any attack by Iran. Similarly, Saudi Arabia has financed Pakistan’s nuclear programme.  The Kingdom is also home to 1.5 million Pakistanis who have moved there in search of employment. However, Saudi Arabia was heavily criticised in Pakistan after it requested assistance in the Yemen war.

According to Riedel, army chief’s visit will greatly repair relations between the two countries. However, many Gulf royal families, especially in Abu Dhabi, have ‘doubts about Pakistan’s reliability’ despite having been offered reassurances that the country would come to the defense of the Kingdom and the two Holy cities, Makkah and Madinah.

Similarly, Riedel writes that many Pakistanis are closely monitoring the king’s son, Prince Muhammad bin Salman, who is also deputy crown prince as well as defense minister, as they have misgivings about the stability of the succession process in the Kingdom. The Saudi King has already removed one crown prince, his brother Prince Muqrin, this year without giving any explanations. Pakistanis are also aggrieved over the Saudi response to the Mina stampede during Hajj this year which left dozens of Pakistanis dead.

With General Raheel Sharif set to visit Washington later this month, Riedel believes that he should be encouraged to help end the war in Yemen as Pakistan could play an important role in any peace agreement by providing security forces to oversee a ceasefire. He further maintains that given Pakistan’s long history of sending troops to the United Nations peacekeeping missions and its experience in managing Sunni-Shia tensions, Pakistan’s involvement in any peace process in Yemen would be essential.