Of times and diplomacy


PM Modi’s visit to KSA


Over the weekend, The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in what can be viewed as a symbolic and diplomatic achievement for India due to a number of different factors. By jointly expressing their resolve to tackle the threat of terrorism, Narendra Modi, despite his past baggage of religious intolerance had managed to capitalize on the strategic opportunity with King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz, to bring India closer to the oil rich kingdom. As a religious demagogue blamed for his failure to curb the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, his ability to practice tactful diplomacy by reaching out to allies of Pakistan, should act as an eye opener for our policy makers.


For us, much like the woeful state of our cricket team which teeters and struggles to evolve with the dynamics of the modern game, our diplomacy needs to be cognizant of emerging realities in the region. Saddled between both the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and India, both geographically and hypothetically, we confront a regional climate characterized by a burgeoning China stressing on its One Belt One Road initiative to promote greater regional connectivity as well as a Post P5+1 Iran which opens up energy prospects which have been previously hijacked due to sanctions imposed on the regime. When the Iranian President Hasan Rouhani paid a visit to Islamabad last week, the RAW issue was raked up. While undoubtedly an important national security issue, given the occasion and timing; it could have been dealt with more subtlety and with wisdom.  Our Iranian neighbors are already irked with our restive border between Sistan- Balochistan and the Balochistan province which is marred by sporadic incidents of violence which foments trust deficits. More emphasis on joint counter terrorism mechanisms to deal with actions of groups such as Jundullah as spoilers could have been a better call than raking up the RAW issue which led to subsequent denials from the Iranian leadership. This delicacy is important, given that we managed to successfully balance ourselves between the sectarian and diplomatic rifts between Iran and Saudi Arabia.



Secondly for all the talk of economic cooperation and turning Pakistan into an economic hub by this present PML N government, the statistics with Saudi Arabia make for a rather bleak picture and should be treated as a wakeup call. As of current India is Saudi Arabia’s fifth largest consumer of oil behind China, the US, Japan and South Korea and as of 2014-15, the state of trade between India and Saudi stood at USD 39.4 Billion as compared to USD 6.1 billion between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan during the same year. These facts buttress the point regarding bilateral relationships and agreements being defined economic interests and cooperation. These stats should act as an opportunity for our top brass to explore new avenues of cooperation with emerging regional powers as well as existing allies while simultaneously highlight the commonality of issues that both Pakistan and states such as Iran and Saudi Arabia face, such as terrorism. To outwit India, Pakistan needs to capitalize on economic, despite the fragile nature of our domestic stability and the civil- military imbalances.


Above all, the symbolic significance of the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Riyadh despite his controversial past is another mooting point, where realism and pragmatism trumps insecurity and suspicion. Modi was conferred with the highest civilian order by the Kingdom, with not a single Pakistani premier having availed it despite our close relationship with Saudi Arabia. Hence, as much as Pakistan should be given credit for balancing itself amid Saudi- Iranian rifts, it is important to strike a balance between national interests and economic cooperation with regional powers which offer plenty to deliberate upon and plenty to look forward to.