Saudi-Pak Ties: “One of the closest relationships in the world”

Prime Minister Imran Khan Calls on King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz on Sept. 10, 2018. (SPA)
Updated 18 February 2019

Saudi-Pak Ties: “One of the closest relationships in the world”

  • Saudi Arabia was among the first countries to recognize Pakistan after its independence
  • Pakistan is a steadfast defender of the Kingdom with its troops stationed on Saudi soil

ISLAMABAD: The former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki bin Faisal once described relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as “probably one of the closest relationships in the world between any two countries.”

The intimate friendship goes back decades. In fact, Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the inhabitants of present-day Pakistan predates the existence of the south Asian Muslim nation of 208 million people.

Then Crown Prince Saud bin Abdul Aziz laid the foundation of Pakistan-Saudi relations way back in 1940 when he led a high-profile delegation to Karachi, accompanied by five of his brothers, three of whom later became Saudi kings. Aziz was hosted by Pakistan’s founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah weeks after his [All-India] Muslim League party passed the Lahore Resolution asking for a separate Muslim majority nation state which ultimately carved the way for the partition of British India in 1947.

Next, in 1943 on Jinnah’s appeal, Saudi Arabia gave £10,000 for those affected by famine in Bengal. Then in 1946, when Jinnah’s Pakistan Movement delegation visited the United Nations to ask for an independent homeland and faced stiff resistance from the Indian National Congress, it was Prince Faisal bin Abdul Aziz who intervened and made sure the movement’s representatives engaged with UN delegates.

In 1947, Saudi Arabia was one of the first countries to recognize Pakistan after it gained independence from british rule, and in 1951, the two countries signed a treaty of friendship. In 1954, King Saud laid the foundation stone in Karachi of a housing scheme named after him.

Pakistani President Ayub Khan’s voyage to Riyadh in 1960 laid the foundation for a convergence of strategic interests, following which Saudi Arabia supported Pakistan during both the 1965 and 1971 wars with India. A bilateral defense cooperation protocol was also framed during Saudi defense and aviation minister Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz’s visit to Pakistan in the late sixties.

Two years following his ascent to the throne, King Faisal in 1966 made a historic visit to Pakistan, during which the government named two roads, an airbase, a city, and a mosque after him. In 1976, the foundations for Islamabad’s famed Faisal mosque were laid by King Khalid bin Abdul Aziz himself.

When Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto came into power and sought Saudi financial assistance to level the playing field amid growing threats from India’s nuclear aspirations, the Kingdom obliged and between 1973 and 1980, Pakistan was a major recipient of Saudi financial aid of up to $502 million.

Pakistan also stationed troops in Saudi Arabia during the 1979 Iran-Iraq war and has remained a steadfast defender of the Kingdom. During the Gulf war too, Pakistan sent soldiers to protect the two Islamic holy sites.

In 1998, after Pakistan tested nuclear weapons, Riyadh defied global pressure and provided a large quantity of oil on deferred payments to help Pakistan stay afloat.

Since then, several Saudi leaders have visited Pakistan, including King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz and Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz. Several agreements were also inked in 2014 during the visit of Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud.

This month, Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman is expected to visit Pakistan with a “record investment package” including a $10 billion oil refinery in the deepwater port of Gwadar.

India says ready to sign Kartarpur agreement with Pakistan on Wednesday

Updated 21 October 2019

India says ready to sign Kartarpur agreement with Pakistan on Wednesday

  • The project is a rare recent example of diplomatic cooperation between the two South Asian rivals
  • New Delhi says “disappointed” by Pakistan’s decision of “levying a service fee of $20 per pilgrim per visit”

LAHORE: India has decided to sign the Kartarpur Corridor agreement on October 23, said an official statement issued by New Delhi’s External Affairs Ministry on Monday, even though it expressed its disappointment over Pakistan’s decision to levy $20 service fee per pilgrims and asked Islamabad to reconsider it.

“In view of the long pending demand of the pilgrims to have visa-free access to Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib and in the interest of operationalization of the corridor in time before the Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary on November 12, the government on Monday conveyed [to Pakistan] that India would be ready to sign the agreement on the corridor on Wednesday,” the statement said.

Pakistan is all set to open the world’s largest Sikh temple to pilgrims and the public on Nov. 9, as construction work on the Kartarpur corridor enters its final stages, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced on his official Facebook page on Sunday.

The visa-free border crossing from India to Kartarpur in Pakistan will be inaugurated just ahead of one of Sikhism’s most sacred festivals, and the 550th birthday of the religion’s founder, Guru Nanak on Nov. 12.

“Pakistan is all set to open its doors for Sikhs from all across the globe, as the construction work on the Kartarpur project enters final stages and will be open to the public on 9th November 2019,” the Prime Minister said on Facebook.

He added: “World’s largest Gurdwara will be visited by Sikhs from across India and other parts of the world.”

However, India’s official statement on Monday said it was “a matter of disappointment” that Pakistan continued “to insist on levying a service fee of $20 per pilgrim per visit.”

The Kartarpur project is a rare recent example of diplomacy between the two South Asian rivals, who came to the brink of war in February this year. In August, relations were further inflamed when India flooded its portion of the disputed Kashmir valley with troops, imposed a communications lockdown and revoked the special legal status of the territory.

Since then, diplomatic relations between the two countries have been virtually non-existent, with Pakistan recalling its envoy from India and banning bilateral trade.

But for the Sikh minority population in India’s northern state of Punjab and elsewhere, the diplomatic overture from Pakistan will come as a relief. The community has long sought easier access to the temple in Kartarpur, a village just 4 km over the border in Pakistan, and which otherwise requires a lengthy visa and travel process.

Instead of visas, Sikh and other pilgrims will now be given special permits to access the shrine, with online registration from the Indian interior ministry live on Sunday.

Indian Punjab’s Chief Minister, Amarinder Singh, has invited the leaders of all Indian political parties to join him to cross the border to the Gurdwara for the opening ceremony.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the Indian side of the corridor but it is yet unclear whether he will cross into Pakistan following the event.

Indian pilgrims will pay Pakistan $20 to use the corridor, which includes roadways, a bridge over the Ravi River and an immigration office, with up to 5,000 Indians to be allowed access daily.