Security personnel carry out the rescue and relief works
Security personnel carry out the rescue and relief works at the site of suicide bomb attack in Pulwama district of south Kashmir, Thursday, February 14, 2019. Image Credit: PTI

Scarce had the furor over Pulwama dimmed even as rumour mills fuelled by a jingoistic media finalising war plans went in overdrive in India that Islamabad laid out the red carpet for the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman on his maiden visit to Asia.

Pakistan was pointedly chosen as his first stop in the three-state run, which includes India and China.

Incidentally, Prince Mohammad Bin Salman arrived in the eye of the storm and left advocating dialogue and peace to resolve any tensions with India.

It is likely that Pakistan’s alleged involvement in Pulwama suicide attack in Kashmir will be brought up by Prime Minister Narendra Modi before the prince.

This is likely to also test the Saudi prince’s position in maintaining a balanced relationship with Pakistan and India while advocating peace and dialogue and urging both countries’ leadership to steer their governments to a less hostile bilateral footing.

Pulwama was unfortunate but what is worse is how fragile the relations between Pakistan and India stand. It is indeed terrible that a lone attack by a radicalised disgruntled individual has the capability to lead two nuclear armed states to the brink of war.

The knee-jerk reaction of blaming without conclusive proof needs to be laid aside. But the bitterness of Kashmir and the pall of terrorism continues to mar inter-state relations.

Imran Khan greets Mohammad Bin Salman
Imran Khan greets Mohammad Bin Salman upon his arrival at the military Nur Khan Air Force base in Islamabad. Image Credit: AFP

Great strategic opportunity

While Saudi Arabia values its relations with both countries, its entry into the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is going to significantly raise the stakes for the neighbours to maintain peace.

It is in India’s interest to mend ties with Pakistan in order to benefit from a great strategic opportunity sitting in its backyard. If New Delhi is shrewd enough to understand the immense advantages CPEC could bring to India it should be welcoming the initiative and not tearing apart the already frayed ties with Islamabad.

Similarly, for Pakistan better relations with India would help its myriad projects specifically that pertaining trade under the CPEC umbrella.

Hence, irrespective of the pre-election strategies Modi continues to indulge in and with Pulwama falling in his lap to divert attention away from his dipping popularity graph, the BJP is savvy enough to understand that wild calls for Pakistan’s isolation won’t work.

Nobody wants to talk about it but Kashmir is New Delhi’s reckoning because of its own policies and not because of Pakistan.

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Pakistan is facing a tough time on the economic front and Imran Khan’s government badly needs political stability and security to build the trust of the country’s closest allies to invite the investments it seeks.

The $20 billion Saudi investments pledged during the crown prince’s visit over the weekend was thus a much-needed shot in the arm.

Most of this investment is tied up in setting up energy and chemical industry projects in Gwadar as part of the CPEC initiative.

There is no doubt that such a massive investment would boost the dividends for all stakeholders. It is now up to Imran Khan to pull his act together and instead of berating past governments improve his own governance in order to utilise this immense opportunity.

He could well provide the leadership Prince Mohammed Bin Salman noted that Saudi Arabia was waiting for in Pakistan to work jointly in major projects.

Pakistan-Saudi relations

But Pakistan-Saudi relations have never been confined to economic matters alone. Their common stance on issues facing the Muslim world, especially oppressed people, their particular ideological position, security relations and consensus on fighting terrorism have evolved naturally as a result of shared vision.

Pakistan’s much respected former army chief Raheel Sharif heads the Saudi led Islamic alliance. Pakistani forces have served in Saudi since decades.

The continued security ties are thus a reaffirmation of their shared strategic interests and allegiance. The crown prince’s emphasis during his visit on shared political and security goals in the region is thus noteworthy.

Saudi Arabia has along with the United Arab Emirates been working behind the scenes to resolve the Afghan deadlock and open the way for a negotiated political settlement with the Taliban.

Riyadh’s endeavours along with the UAE to achieve a peaceful resolution of the protracted conflict in Afghanistan is a testament of the Gulf states’ commitment to peace and stability in the region.

Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia 0992
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman is conferred with Nishan-e-Pakistan due to his "outstanding support for reinvigorating Pakistan-Saudi bilateral relationship". Image Credit: Twitter

Saudi Arabia is held in the highest esteem in Pakistan and Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s affirmation of the regard Saudi has for Pakistan by ordering the release of over 2,000 Pakistani prisoners in Saudi jails is going to deepen the goodwill.

By clinching relief for the prisoners and requesting care for the millions of Pakistani expatriates working in Saudi Arabia, premier Khan has also gained political mileage.

Vicious vortex

Saudi Arabia along with Pakistan’s other allies do wish to see better relations with the regional states. But the onus cannot be laid at Pakistan’s door alone. It is mutually beneficial for all to refrain from escalating tensions and cooperate on security matters.

While the Saudi prince’s visit brought optimism and relief, the specter of worsening ties with India still looms. It is imperative that renewed diplomatic efforts are launched to curb further damage and offer assistance New Delhi might require in investigating Pulwama.

However, Islamabad must not be pulled into the vicious vortex of responding on the same wavelength to the highly provocative threats being issued. This would only catapult to an unknown and dangerous point where neither state could backtrack, a situation responsible nuclear states avoid in confrontations.