An all important visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has come at a time when Pakistan has emerged as a ‘key player’ not only in the region but also in the world in resolving decades-old conflict in Afghanistan and challenges ahead to counter terrorism and extremism through economic developments.
The visit is not only important in view of Pakistan’s economic need but the country also seeks MBS’s role in meeting the challenges to counter extremism as the crown prince has brought some drastic changes in Saudi society.
Islamabad terms the visit the most ‘historic’ since the days of former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who played a key role in building an ‘Islamic bloc’ in the 70s.
Pakistan expects major agreements for economic uplifts to help its crippling economy while Saudi Arabia backed Pakistan’s role in resolving disputes in Afghanistan and with other countries through negotiations.
The two suicide bombings, one at Pulwama, in Held Kashmir, which killed over 40 Indian soldiers and one near Sistan, Balochistan, near Pakistan’s border, which killed 27 Iranian Revolutionary Guards, in the last three days was seen as an attempt by ‘anti-Pakistan’ groups as the timing of these attacks coincide with the visit of MBS, who will be going to India as well in a week’s time.
Pakistan has not only condemned these attacks but also offered cooperation in the investigation. It has already decided to send a delegation to Tehran for talks in the aftermath of the attack. On the other hand, it has rejected India’s blame game tactic and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi even pledged for all kind of cooperation if India shares some evidence.
However, the reaction from the United States was a setback for Pakistan as it termed US statement regrettable and premature. Therefore, the diplomatic challenges ahead for Pakistan are not only how it succeeded in resolving the Afghan conflict through its diplomatic role but also how to change world’s view that Pakistan was neither involved nor allows its territory to be used for global terrorism.
Pakistan is a victim of terrorism which resulted in the killing of over 70,000 people including some 20,000 soldiers and officers of law-enforcement agencies. Pakistan which in the past was often blamed for providing ‘safe haven’ to terrorists particularly in North Waziristan, and as a result launched massive clean-up operation and got these areas cleared after 2013. Earlier, it also cleared areas like Swat, Malakand and South Waziristan, which in the past remained in control of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and groups like al-Qaeda. It was followed by a cleanup operation in Karachi as well.
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) came as a blessing for Pakistan and was seen as a ‘game changer’ for the economic development and now with the visit of MBS, investment of billions of dollars is expected.
Pakistan rightly believes that the two bombings could be an attempt to damage its efforts in resolving the Afghan conflict as well as changing world’s perception towards the country having ‘sanctuaries’ for terror networks. The new leaderships in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have their own vision of ‘Naya Pakistan’ and ‘Naya Saudi Arabia’.
Under MBS’s leadership some unprecedented developments have taken place in Saudi Arabia, which drew world attention and was welcomed by the Western world.
Prime Minister Imran Khan since the day he assumed power not only offered India to resume talks for all outstanding issues including Kashmir but also took certain initiatives like inviting Indian cricketers at his oath-taking and opening of Kartarpur Corridor. Saudi Arabia fully supported Pakistan’s initiative in resolving conflicts including Afghanistan, through negotiations.
It was because of Pakistan’s position on Afghanistan that for the first time the US President Donald Trump also acknowledged the same and appreciated Imran’s vision that ‘solution to the problem is in talks not war’.
Change in the US stance on Afghanistan was like a ‘dream come true’ for the new leadership in Pakistan, as Prime Minister Imran Khan since 9/11 had been advocating that war is no solution to the conflict.
Pakistan has succeeded in bringing United States and Afghan Taliban, who are the key players in the conflict on negotiating table but so far unable to make any breakthrough between Afghan Taliban and the Afghan government. There are reports that a special delegation of Afghan Taliban was also due in Islamabad for a possible meeting with MBS, which may go a long way in reaching some kind of settlement or possibility of a meeting between AT and Afghan government as well.
Pakistan is also trying to pursue Afghan Taliban to show some ‘flexibility’ and talk to Afghan government for the new political order in Afghanistan after elections.
If the visit of MBS, led to any breakthrough; chances are that some kind of settlement to the decades-old Afghan conflict may led to the US troops’ withdrawal and change in Afghan setup. Pakistan can also request the Saudi crown prince to play more active role in bringing peace in the region and other conflicts while Pakistan will provide strategic cooperation to Saudi Arabia in the Middle East crisis.
The writer is a columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang