‘Generous support’ from Saudi Arabia helped Pakistan after nuclear tests, says diplomat

Bahrullah Hazarvi, who served in Saudi Arabia for 23 years in different capacities, shows his book on King Abdul Aziz Bin Abdul Rahman Al-Saud that was published in 1997. The book is available in libraries and Islamic centers of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in English, Urdu and Arabic languages.
Updated 17 February 2019
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‘Generous support’ from Saudi Arabia helped Pakistan after nuclear tests, says diplomat

  • Pakistan got KSA's backing as it prepared for its first nuclear tests in May 1998, says diplomat
  • Bahrullah Hazarvi worked in Saudi Arabia for more than three decades in a number of diplomatic positions.

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia has helped Pakistan in many ways over the years. One notable example of this, according to a Pakistani diplomat and author who was present during the discussions, was the generous support and encouragement the Kingdom offered Islamabad as Pakistan prepared for its first nuclear tests in May 1998.

“Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif spoke with King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz on the telephone before the nuclear tests and received his full-fledged support,” said Bahrullah Hazarvi, who was the interpreter during the conversation. Pakistan’s first nuclear test, on May 28, 1998, was a direct response to arch rival India’s second round of nuclear tests on May 11 and 13.

“The generous support of Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries at the time encouraged Pakistan to give a befitting response to India,” he added.

Hazarvi worked in Saudi Arabia for more than three decades in a number of diplomatic positions and also wrote a book on the life of King Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Rahman Al-Saud, the founder of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which was published in 1997 in English, Arabic and Urdu.

His first posting to Saudi Arabia, in June 1977, was as a coordination officer in Pakistan’s consulate general in Jeddah. He continued to work there until he retired 2010, by which time he was director of Hajj. He is currently working on a new book documenting his experience and life in Saudi Arabia.

Hazarvi’s long stay in the Kingdom and grasp of Arabic allowed him to study many aspects of the lives of the Saudi people and their rulers, including King Salman. He was also frequently called upon to serve as an interpreter for Saudi dignitaries and officials during visits to Pakistan. He carried out this role in 1998, for example, when King Salman, who at the time was still a prince, held official meetings with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other dignitaries during a seven-day visit to Pakistan.

Recalling his motivation to write a book about the life of the Kingdom’s founder, Hazarvi said: “King Abdul Aziz’s love for peace and Muslims all over the world inspired me to write the book. It is a kind of tribute to his services for Muslims.”

In the book, he describes the king as a great leader, known for “forthright expression of pure and clear faith,” who always appreciated the “loyalty and sincerity” of his people.

“We only want one system and that is the system bestowed upon us by Allah, and our only endeavor is to establish peace on this land,” King Abdul Aziz told a large gathering of pilgrims in 1925.

The author also praises the king for his decision in 1952 to abolish Hajj fees for pilgrims.

“This was considered a very great achievement and to this day the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not charge any fee from pilgrims,” Hazarvi writes in his book, which features a preface from Pakistan’s former president Farooq Leghari.

The author notes that the Pakistani community in Saudi Arabia had grown from 1.5 million in 1980s to 2.1 million in 1990s and wrote: “Pakistanis enjoy all basic rights in Saudi Arabia…and send huge remittances back home every year to support their families and contribute to the prosperity of the country.”

Hazarvi said that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Pakistan is evidence of his love for the people of Pakistan. “He has emerged as a visionary leader of Saudi Arabia and this visit will further strengthen the bilateral relationship,” he said.


Destiny’s child: Philippines’ Robredo refuses to rule out presidency just yet

Updated 45 min 5 sec ago

Destiny’s child: Philippines’ Robredo refuses to rule out presidency just yet

  • In an exclusive interview with Arab News, the vice president talks about her frosty relationship with Duterte and the need to ensure OFW rights

MANILA: She is one of his most vocal critics, while he never misses an opportunity to mock her in public speeches across the Philippines.

But when it comes to upholding the sanctity of their office, both President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo ensure they bring a finely scripted civility to the table.

“I do not meet him often. I do not get invited to functions in the presidential palace, but I get invited to military events. I try as much as I can to attend ... and I see the president there. Our meetings have always been cordial. The president has been very civil when we see each other,” Robredo said in an exclusive interview with Arab News in Manila.

Robredo was elected separately to Duterte and was not his running mate. Amid rumors that she is the obvious choice to take on the mantle once Duterte finishes his term, Robredo says that she is not ready to rule out the idea just yet.

“I do not rule it out completely only because of what happened during the last two elections where I ruled out running for Congress and I ruled out running for the vice-presidency, and I had to eat my words after that,” she said, adding that as far as the Philippines is concerned, it’s all about “destiny.”

“Our history has shown that a lot of people have aspired for the presidency, but have not been successful. And we have had a lot of presidents who won the elections where they had not prepared as much as the other candidates. It is something that will be given to you if it is really meant for you. So there is no point in preparing for it at this point,” she said.

In recent years, Robredo and Duterte have had a frosty relationship over issues ranging from the government’s controversial war on drugs to the Philippines ties with China.

Recently, Robredo called out Duterte for his “shoot, but don’t kill” orders.

The president made his comments on Thursday during the inauguration of the Bataan government center and business hub dubbed “The Bunker,” urging Filipinos to “shoot but not kill” public officials who were demanding money in exchange for their services and vowing to defend any person who attacked a corrupt official.

The statement drew flak from several rights organizations and, most significantly, from the vice president herself.

“I do not agree with killings per se, whether they are against drug addicts or corrupt officials. We have laws; we have the judicial system, and we should make sure that we have a strong judicial system, safe from political intrusion and corruption,” she said.

Robredo also explained why she has been at loggerheads with Duterte over his stance on the South China Sea.

Last week, she described as “reckless” his suggestion that he would consider bypassing an arbitration ruling — in favor of the Philippines — over a territorial dispute with China in order to finalize an energy pact with Beijing.

“I have always been vocal about statements by the president, which may be interpreted in a manner that would be against the constitution. It has been the reason of some friction between us. There has been a lot of confusion as far as the seriousness of the president’s remarks is concerned. Whenever he makes controversial statements, some officials around him try to correct those statements,” she said, adding that her retorts have “been a source of criticism from many of the president’s supporters.”

Adding to their constant tug-of-war is the issue of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and sending manpower to countries in the Middle East.

The issue intensified with the murder of 29-year-old Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in Kuwait last year. A Syrian woman, one of Demafelis’ employers, was found guilty of her murder this month.

Following the incident, the Philippines placed a ban on sending workers to Kuwait.

Duterte lifted the ban after Demafelis’ killer was tried, and there have been efforts to negotiate the terms and conditions of labor contracts by both the countries.

“The issues in Kuwait became a little too unbearable and we entered into a memorandum of agreement last year ... it was a reaction to many of the complaints that overseas Filipinos in Kuwait have. Some say that their passports are being confiscated by employers as soon as they reach Kuwait, and there are complaints about the working conditions, hours, etc,” Robredo said.

However, the agreement was a “short-term” initiative and a more formal bilateral agreement would have been “better in the sense that both countries will be made accountable,” she said.

“This is our desire not just in Kuwait, but also in many other parts of the Middle East, and in Saudi Arabia for example, where most of our Filipino workers are. There has been a UN convention on the protection of the rights of overseas workers — migrant workers — but, unfortunately, most of the countries hosting our migrant workers are not signatories to that convention yet,” she said.

Robredo described the agreement a “work in progress,” saying “it is something that we have been working on for several years.”

The Philippines signed two agreements with Saudi Arabia — the first in 2015, and another two years later —  on labor contracts and recruitment.

According to the Philippines Statistics Authority, the Kingdom continued to be the top destination for OFWs until May this year, with an estimated 2.3 million Filipinos working there.

Remittances from the period totalled P235.9 billion ($4.5 billion), up from P205.2 billion a year earlier.

“It is our desire that the countries hosting our migrant workers will be signatories to the UN convention because at the very least, the basic rights of our workers will be protected. It is something that not just our Foreign Affairs Department is working on, but our Labor Department as well,” she said, adding that this and a few other issues are subjects on which she and the president agree.

In June this year, when both Robredo and Duterte entered the final stretch of their six-year terms, the vice president said that she wanted a “better working relationship” with the president.

It is a sentiment that she voiced strongly while talking to Arab News as well.

“I think if our meetings are to be the gauge of our relationship, we are OK. It is just that there have been a lot of side remarks, issues and criticisms outside of our meetings that I think complicates the relationship,” she said.