Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has just returned from a highly important trip of China where he co-chaired the second round of China-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.
Though the dialogue was pre-scheduled, it happened at a critical time when a lot is being discussed about Pakistan’s relationship with its traditional allies in the Gulf.
Relations of Pakistan with the Gulf States have been under strained over the past few years, particularly after Islamabad refused to commit troops for the Saudi war against Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Moreover, growing ties of the Gulf countries with India and their lukewarm attitude towards the cause of Kashmir has created great concern in Pakistan.
The foreign minister a few weeks back in blunt remarks during an interview with a television channel asked the Gulf friends, particularly Saudi Arabia not to “drag its feet” on calling a ministerial meeting of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) to ponder over Kashmir issue in the wake of India’s forcible and unjust annexation of held Kashmir in August last year.
There were unconfirmed reports that Pakistan was also being asked by its Gulf friends to distance itself from very close ties with China, and instead forge more closer relationship with the United States.
These speculations came against the backdrop of reports that Saudi Arabia has demanded Pakistan to return the three billion loans it was granted in 2018 to tackle the balance of payment crisis, forcing Islamabad to borrow one billion dollars from China to return the first installment of the borrowed money.
It is heartening to see that Pakistan has continued to cement its ties with China disregarding the advice, if given any, in this regard.
In the joint statement issued after Qureshi’s visit, Pakistan reaffirmed its commitment to strengthening ties with its all-weather and time-tested friend, China.
China, undoubtedly, has been the most reliable friend of Pakistan and the friendship with it has stood the test of time.
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the flagship project of Beijing’s gigantic Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), has aroused jealously and more rivalry amongst those who hold animosity against the deep friendship between Islamabad and Beijing.
However, our leaders need to know that the inter-state relations are also too sensitive to be handled in a knee-jerk and haphazard manner. They need to be handled with utmost care and populist posturing should be avoided while dealing with them.
Pakistan has had strong political, religious, economic, commercial and strategic relations with Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia.
Both have stood by each other through thick and thin. While Pakistan has been steadfast in its support for the Arab causes and has generously contributed towards provision of security to these countries, the Gulf nations also have extended support to Pakistan’s position on its core issue of Kashmir.
Moreover, the Gulf countries have been a major source of oil as well as financial support to Pakistan. Tens of thousands of Pakistanis are employed in these countries, and they contribute significantly to the foreign exchange reserves by sending remittances.
Pakistan received record high remittances in the month of July, biggest chunk of which came from Saudi Arabia where around a million Pakistanis are employed. Over the past several years, the money sent from Saudi Arabia has been the highest chunk of foreign remittances for the country.
According to the State Bank of Pakistan, Pakistani workers in Saudi Arabia remitted 821 million dollars in July as against 470 million dollars sent last year, registering an increase of 74.5 percent.
The 538 million dollars from the United Arab Emirates accounted for the second biggest contribution to foreign remittances received by Pakistan last month, registering an increase of 26 percent from the same period last year.
Given the crucial economic and financial support Pakistan gets from these countries, our leaders need to tackle the relationship with utmost care but, of course, without compromising national interests.
These matters need to be handled in a diplomatic manner and all channels need to be fully exhausted to ensure that these ties are not hurt. And even if some modification or change is required in the relationship, this should be done in a legal, constitutional manner and in line with the international norms and traditions.
The government is required to take entire political leadership into confidence over its strategy to deal with these sensitive matters.
A broad national consensus should be evolved that would give much-needed confidence to the government to deal with these issues.
The world is undergoing a big change whereby new inter-stated relationship and new alignments among the countries are emerging at the international scene.
Economic cooperation is one of the key elements in the formation of these alignments.
Pakistani leadership is required to ensure that Pakistan’s economic interests are fully preserved if it decides to join any of these new alignments.
The nation is required to be taken into confidence over any such developments and the parliament is the most appropriate forum to discuss these matters in this regard.
The government as well as political parties should initiate a debate in parliamentary committees on these matters and create awareness among their lawmakers over the sensitivity of these issues before discussing them at the floor of the parliament.
Traditionally, there has seldom been public debate in Pakistan on important geostrategic matters and decisions have mostly been taken behind closed doors without taking public representatives into confidence.
But in order to strengthen democratic institutions, these matters need to be handled in a democratic and political manner with complete involvement of all stakeholders.
The foreign minister should take the parliament into confidence on his visit to China as well as state of Pakistan’s relations with the Gulf countries. The anxiety among people cannot be removed through feel-good stories.
Pakistan’s political, economic, and security as well commercial interests are at stake, which requires our leaders to show utmost responsibility and prudence while dealing with these matters. A lopsided or flawed strategy can only cause harm to national interests which needs to be avoided at all costs.