Why India should not complain about Saudi Arabia’s hefty aid to Pakistan
New Delhi, Feb 20: The BJP government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was critisied for extending a warm welcome to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) on his arrival to India on Tuesday, February 19, as many felt it was not right for New Delhi to receive an ally of Pakistan which just signed investment deals with Islamabad worth $20 billion.
Saudi Arabia's commitments to Pakistan can't be questioned for they after all, pertain to the two countries' bilateral affair. But the point which should not be missed is that the huge help that the Saudis are giving to a cash-strapped Pakistan is not without a reason and India should not really feel upset about it.
The Saudis will be investing mainly in Pakistan's energy sector and open a new oil refinery in the southwestern city of Gwadar which also houses a strategic port. The latest agreement comes just months after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan paid a visit to the West Asian kingdom.
It was a time when MBS came under tremendous international pressure over the murder of dissenting Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and many western countries boycotted the Saudi regime and its high-profile event on investment. PM Khan found it a good opportunity to stand by the Saudis when many others went against it to secure a fat monetary aid although that was not enough to pay off Pakistan's debts.
The latest investment worth billions is another goodwill gesture shown by Riyadh to Islamabad and even though Pakistan's economy can benefit from this, the country is definitely going to land in another trap.
The more Pakistan leans towards Saudi, the more it will alienate Iran
Pakistan is a nation that has good relation with two regional powers that are hard enemies to each other in West Asia - Saudi Arabia and Iran. The latter has a border with Pakistan and there are factors that have hurt Tehran's relationship with Islamabad, including terror.
Just a day before India lost several of his soldiers in a suicide terror attack in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir, Iran too lost a number of its soldiers in a similar attack near the country's border with Pakistan. Iran also believes that Jaish al-Adl, the outfit that claimed responsibility over the attack, has direct links with the Saudis.
The incident has drawn sharp reaction from Tehran and for Riyadh, this is a good time to supply packages to win Islamabad's loyalty and also at the same time, make it ignore the sinister developments that are taking place on Pakistani soil.
What a noted Pakistani journalist said
Taha Siddiqui, an award-winning Pakistani journalist living in exile in France, wrote in a piece in Al Jazeera: "Saudi financial flows to Pakistan started with the US-approved scheme to arm and train fighters of anti-Soviet armed groups in Afghanistan. Riyadh and Islamabad also cooperated closely to curb expanding Iranian influence in the region which, they saw, sought to incite the Shia minorities in both the countries to rebel."
"Saudi financial help to Pakistan assumed many forms, including military and civilian, but also religious. Zia-ul-Haq's government allowed Saudi charities to fund seminaries and mosques, which inevitably came with more conservative interpretations of Islam and anti-Shia ideology. Riyadh has also been accused of supporting certain "extremist" Sunni groups."
"Some of these seminaries and groups are alleged to be responsible for radicalising the local youth and turning many of them against Shia Muslims. Some of them have also carried out cross-border attacks in Iran."
"Pakistan cannot afford to be a battleground where Saudi Arabia and Iran settle their scores. It cannot be complicit in the rise of anti-Shia violence or destabilisation of neighbouring countries any longer."
This is a very serious challenge that the Pakistani state is set to face in the days to come. The prime ministership of Imran Khan looks a promising one for many observers for he is seen busy making foreign trips to secure his country's economy but not many are sure at what cost is he doing it?
India need not worry too much about the Saudi-Pakistan bonhomie as long as Iran and Saudi don't see face to face. For this one-eyed foreign policy of Islamabad could land Pakistan in a serious trouble in days to come and no matter of foreign aid will be able to help it then.
For India, it is a long-term gain to see Pakistan alienating itself with its other neighbours more.