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Gen Bajwa on mending mission to Saudi Arabia

Kingdom not happy with Qureshi’s ‘dilly-dallying’ remarks against OIC on Kashmir issue, fate of crucial $6.2bn loan hangs in balance. Saudi envoy also takes up matter with Army chief

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Riyadh had already made Pakistan pay back $1 billion two weeks ago, forcing Islamabad to borrow from China.  It is yet to respond to Pakistan’s request to extend the oil credit facility

Nation special report

ISLAMABAD: In wake of reportedly but visible strains situation following the harsh expressions by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi about Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) in regards to Kashmir issue, Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa will visit Saudi Arabia this weekend which is regarded as mending mission. Officials have said here that he will be seeking to calm diplomatic strains over Kashmir as financial support for Islamabad hangs in the balance.

The two countries are traditionally close and Saudi Arabia in 2018 gave Pakistan a $3 billion loan and $3.2 billion oil credit facility to help its balance of payments crisis.But Riyadh is irked by criticism from Pakistan that Saudi Arabia has been lukewarm on the Kashmir territorial dispute, two senior military officials told Reuters, motivating General Bajwa’s planned fence-building visit on Sunday.

“Yes, he is travelling,” Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Major General Babar Iftikhar told the British news agency though the official line was that the visit was pre-planned and “primarily military affairs oriented.”

Pakistan has long pressed the Saudi-led Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) to convene a high-level meeting to highlight alleged Indian violations in the occupied Kashmir. But the OIC has only held low-level meetings so far.

“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,” Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told local media last week.

Money at stake

Last year, Islamabad had pulled out of a Muslim nations forum at the last minute on insistence by Riyadh, which saw the gathering as an attempt to challenge its leadership of the OIC.

Qureshi’s remarks have revived Riyadh’s anger, one of the Pakistani military officials and a government adviser said.

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Ambassador Nawaf Saeed Al-Malkiy discussing issues of mutual concern with Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa at the GHQ on Monday (10th August).

Saudia Arabia had already made Pakistan pay back $1 billion two weeks ago, forcing it to borrow from another close ally China, and Riyadh is yet to respond to Pakistan’s request to extend the oil credit facility.

“The first year [of the oil credit facility] completed on 9th July 2020. Our request for an extension in the arrangement is under consideration with the Saudi side,” a finance ministry official told Reuters.

Saudi Arabia is also asking for another $1 billion back, officials at the finance ministry and one of the military officers said.

The Saudi government media office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Saudi envoy

Informed sources in Islamabad have confirmed media reports that Saudi Arabia has taken serious note of statements of Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in regards to the Kashmir issue and commented that no truth whatsoever is in these expressions.

In a TV interview on ARY Channel on Wednesday last week, SMQ criticised what he termed the inactive role of Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) in not taking serious interest in the core issue between Pakistan and India. He was made target by the opposition leaders and media for these remarks as irresponsible and not appropriate for a brother and close friend Saudi Arabia and OIC which is led by Riyadh.

The sources claim that this issue was taken by Saudi Ambassador Nawaf Saeed Al-Malkiy who called on Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa at GHQ on Monday. “Gen Bajwa opined that these expressions were not appropriate and he would take this matter up with Prime Minister Imran Khan in a couple of days”, the sources further claimed.

RIYADH: In his previous visit to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan’s COAS Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa shaking hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman at Royal Palace.

It is pertinent to mention that while releasing the news of media, the ISPR, the military’s media wing did not refer this subject but said that the security situation in the region was discussed during the meeting. “Matters of mutual interest, regional security situation and bilateral defense relations between the two brotherly countries were discussed during the meeting,” the Pakistani army said in a statement.

What did SMQ say

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in an unusually sharp warning asked Saudi Arabia-led Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Wednesday to stop dilly-dallying on the convening of a meeting of its Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) on Kashmir.

Appearing in a talk show on ARY News, the foreign minister said: “I am once again respectfully telling OIC that a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers is our expectation. 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.”

Mr Qureshi said that if OIC fails to summon the CFM meeting, Pakistan would be ready to go for a session outside OIC. In response to another question, he said Pakistan could not wait any further.

Pakistan has been pushing for the foreign ministers’ meeting of the 57-member bloc of Muslim countries, which is the second largest intergovernmental body after the UN, since India annexed occupied Kashmir last August.

Mr Qureshi had at an earlier presser explained the importance of CFM for Pakistan. He had then said that it was needed to send a clear message from Ummah on the Kashmir issue.

Although there has been a meeting of the contact group on Kashmir on the sidelines of UN General Assembly session in New York since last August and OIC’s Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission has made statements on the rights abuses in the occupied valley, but no progress could be made towards the CFM meeting.

A major reason behind the failure to call the foreign ministers’ meeting has been Saudi Arabia’s reluctance to accept Pakistan’s request for one specifically on Kashmir. Riyadh’s support is crucial for any move at the OIC, which is dominated by Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries.

Mr Qureshi said Pakistan skipped Kuala Lumpur Summit last December on Saudi request and now Pakistani Muslims are demanding of Riyadh to “show leadership on the issue”.

“We have our own sensitivities. You have to realise this. Gulf countries should understand this,” the foreign minister said, adding that he could no more indulge in diplomatic niceties.

Mr Qureshi made it clear that he was not being emotional and fully understood the implications of his statement. “It’s right, I’m taking a position despite our good ties with Saudi Arabia,” he said. “We cannot stay silent anymore on the sufferings of the Kashmiris,” he said.

Frustration in Islamabad over OIC’s inaction on Kashmir has been growing for months. Prime Minister Khan voiced his concern while speaking at a think-tank during his visit to Malaysia in February.

“The reason is that we have no voice and there is a total division amongst [us]. We can’t even come together as a whole on the OIC meeting on Kashmir,” Mr Khan had said.

It should be recalled that Turkey, Malaysia and Iran had unequivocally rejected India’s annexation of Kashmir and voiced serious concerns on atrocities committed by Indian security forces on Kashmiris in the occupied valley.