Imran’s diplomatic fiasco

One-point anti-India propaganda ruins Pakistan’s ties with the Arab world

Imran’s diplomatic fiasco

At it: Pakistan must learn that its efforts to condemn India are a recipe for economic disaster and political isolation.

G Parthasarathy

Chancellor, Jammu Central University & former High Commissioner to Pakistan

One of the main pillars of Pakistan’s worldwide anti-India diplomacy has been its efforts to malign India in Islamic countries, especially in the Gulf and across West Asia. It constantly sheds crocodile tears about a so-called ‘India-Israel axis’ and an anti-Islamic ‘Hindu-Jewish’ conspiracy threatening the Islamic world. The 53-member Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), which is significantly influenced by Saudi Arabia, is sought to be used to promote anti-India propaganda, particularly on J&K. This era is now ending, as India’s relations with the Islamic world, particularly with the oil-rich Gulf countries, including Iraq, have significantly improved. Like India, most Arab states favour a ‘two-state solution’ to the Israel-Palestinian issue. Moreover, these countries view Pakistan as an economic basket case, forever pleading for money.

It is, however, the arrogance and ignorance of Imran Khan, obsessed with denigrating India, that has ruined Pakistan’s relations with the Arab world. He has seriously upset Pakistan’s benefactors like Saudi Arabia and the UAE by seeking to strike deals with their Islamic rivals like Turkey, Iran and Malaysia. His efforts to make Kashmir an issue for collective action by the ‘Islamic ummah’ inevitably failed. He did not realise that over the centuries, the ‘ummah’ has been afflicted with Persian-Arab and Arab-Turkish civilisational prejudices, apart from age-old Shia-Sunni rivalries. Imran inexplicably walked into a diplomatic quagmire by joining the efforts of 93-year-old Mahathir Mohammed of Malaysia and the arrogant Turkey President Recep Erdogan to set up a new Islamic grouping. He was, however, forced to pull back after Saudi expressions of strong displeasure.

Imran has little or no knowledge about the warm ties between India and the Arab states. He has led his country into a diplomatic bog. He was rebuffed on more than one occasion by Saudi Arabia on his pleas to convene a meeting of the OIC to take action against India. His loquacious Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi demanded that Saudi Arabia should immediately convene a meeting of the OIC foreign ministers. He pompously proclaimed: ‘If you cannot convene it, then I’ll be compelled to ask PM Imran Khan to call a meeting of the Islamic countries that are ready to stand with us on the issue of Kashmir, and support the oppressed Kashmiris.’

Imran seemed to have forgotten that Pakistan’s economy survives on annual doles from Saudi Arabia and the West. The infuriated Saudis responded immediately by freezing a $3.2 billion oil credit facility, and demanded that Pakistan commence repaying a $3 billion loan. All hell immediately broke loose in the army’s GHQ at Rawalpindi, when the Saudi sanctions were announced. The Saudi ambassador headed to Rawalpindi for a meeting with army chief Qamar Jawed Bajwa, ignoring both Imran and Qureshi. He, thereafter, met opposition leaders in Lahore.

Imran has not learnt anything from the way PM Modi had visited and befriended Arab monarchies. Saudi Arabia and the UAE see India as a diplomatically reliable and economically useful partner. Their leading national oil companies have decided to invest $60 billion in a major petrochemical project in Maharashtra’s Raigad district. At the same time, the Arab countries could not have been too pleased by the $400 billion economic deal which Pakistan’s ‘all-weather friend’ China had negotiated with Shia-dominated Iran. They regard Iran as their principal security threat. Moreover, for many Pakistanis, relations with Saudi Arabia are sacrosanct, as it provides employment to millions of Pakistani workers. Imran seems to have forgotten that overruling Pakistan’s objections, the UAE had invited India’s then External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to a meeting of OIC foreign ministers it hosted last year.

Recognising the implications of Imran’s blunders, General Bajwa rushed to Riyadh, with the expectation that he would meet Crown Prince Salman to sort out differences. There was, however, no senior Saudi military official to receive him, and his ISI chief, Lt Gen Faiz Hamid, at the airport. Those who condescended to meet Bajwa later were the deputy minister for defence and ‘two star’ chief of defence staff Major Gen Fayyad Hamad.

Interestingly, the Pakistan media blacked out all news on the Riyadh visit. Bajwa’s predecessor, Gen Raheel Sharif, is based in Saudi Arabia, commanding an ‘Islamic Military Counter-Terrorism Coalition’ that has no troops to command! This coalition is made up of 41 Islamic countries, with the notable exception of Iran. One could presume Raheel Sharif would soon be heading home.

These are important developments, confirming that India has played its cards dexterously across its western neighbourhood. It has calibrated its relations with Islamic countries. Relations with Iran also have been friendly, but marred by Tehran’s unpredictable policy on J&K. Most importantly, India has built a strong partnership with Israel, while supporting Palestinian aspirations for a viable nation state. Hence India is seen as a reliable, regional power.

Imran could now be tempted to pursue his earlier thoughts of joining an Islamic grouping, comprising initially Pakistan, Iran, Malaysia and Turkey. The Arabs have historically had less-than-comfortable relations with Turks. Moreover, there will be no ‘easy money’ available that these countries can provide to Pakistan. Imran, or whoever replaces him, will be compelled to crawl back on bended knees, seeking to renew Pakistan’s partnership with Saudi Arabia. Riyadh will naturally set hard terms for a renewed partnership. Pakistan will hopefully learn that an anti-India foreign policy is a recipe for economic disaster and political isolation.

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