Pakistan army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa heads to Riyadh to make peace in row over Kashmir

Pakistan army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa heads to Riyadh to make peace in row over Kashmir
Pakistan army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa heads to Riyadh to make peace in row over Kashmir

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Pakistan's military chief will head to Saudi Arabia on Sunday to try to smooth relations with the kingdom after a spat over policy on Kashmir.

Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa is due in Riyadh for damage-control talks with one of Pakistan's biggest benefactors after the kingdom is reported to have demanded repayment of loans because of the dispute.

Disagreement between the allies flared earlier this month when Pakistan's foreign minister used a television interview to chide Saudi Arabia for failing to condemn New Delhi's actions in Indian-administered Kashmir.

His comments angered an ally that is the largest source of remittances to Pakistan and one of its biggest financial backers.

Riyadh is reportedly demanding Pakistan’s early repayment of a $3 billion (Dh11bn) loan and has frozen a $3.2bn oil credit facility.

Pakistan's military maintains the trip by Gen Bajwa, the chief of army staff and arguably the most powerful man in the country, is only for military discussions. But analysts said his visit underlined the importance of healing ties.

“I think there's going to be a lot of grovelling going on in Riyadh,” said Farzana Shaikh, a Pakistan expert at the Chatham House think tank.

“There is great worry, both on the security and the economic level, that this government has simply gone ahead and spoken and acted in a manner judged to be rash,” she said.

Withdrawal of Saudi financial support puts intense pressure on Imran Khan's government which was buffeted by a dire financial crisis even before the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic. A rift is also likely to push Islamabad closer to its other big benefactor, China.

The flare-up has been prompted by Pakistani frustration that the Muslim world has done too little in response to Delhi's withdrawal of self rule in Indian-administered Kashmir. Pakistan has long pressed the Saudi-led Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) to convene a summit highlighting alleged Indian abuses.

“If you cannot convene it, then I’ll be compelled to ask Prime Minister 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,” Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, told local media earlier this month.

The apparent challenge to Saudi leadership of the OIC has angered the kingdom.

“Pakistani elites have a bad habit of taking Saudi support for granted given what Saudi has done for Pakistan over the decades,” said Ali Shihabi, a Saudi commentator considered close to the government. “Well, the party is over and Pakistan needs to deliver value to this relationship,” he tweeted on Thursday.

Kashmir has been the trigger for two wars between India and Pakistan since 1947 and several other clashes. Islamabad's claim to the whole of the disputed territory is the cornerstone of its foreign and security policy and the world's muted response to India's revocation of Kashmir's special status has frustrated Pakistan.

Yet while Saudi Arabia and Pakistan share a common religion, the kingdom’s $33bn annual trade with India is about 11 times larger.

Updated: August 15, 2020 03:32 PM

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