Pakistan has paid back $1 billion to Saudi Arabia out of a total of $3 billion loan it had taken from the kingdom a year and a half back to avert a balance-of-payments crisis. The fiscal gap that the withdrawal of the Saudi lifeline left has been squarely filled in by China. The sudden return of the part of the Saudi loan has triggered several questions: Why did Islamabad return the mentioned amount only after 18 months — and that too at a time of depleting fiscal space due to the coronavirus-induced closures in the country — even though the loan facility was for a period of three years? Did Islamabad do it voluntarily or was it forced to do so? Has the partial settlement of the Saudi loan by Pakistan anything to do with the changing political dynamics in the region that is witnessing diplomatic realignment of late? Or more specifically, is it linked with Finance Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s vocal frustration on the Riyadh-led OIC continuously ignoring the Kashmir issue?
For an answer, let’s analyse the recent remarks from our Foreign Office — that followed Qureshi’s fervent call upon the 57-member OIC to “stop dilly-dallying” on convening a meeting of its Council of Foreign Ministers on Kashmir. During a weekly briefing on Friday, the Foreign Office spokesperson said Qureshi’s statement made during a TV interview was not against diplomatic norms, and described them as a reflection of people’s aspirations and expectations from the OIC to raise the Kashmir issue internationally. For opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif though, the foreign minister’s remarks about a brotherly Muslim country constitute “irresponsible” stance. Ahsan Iqbal, another senior PML-N leader, has accused the government of “playing with” vital interests of Pakistan by issuing statements against a country that had always stood by the Pakistanis in testing times.
While we have all the right to give precedence to our own national and diplomatic interests, nothing should annoy a friend like Saudi Arabia with which our bilateral ties spans our entire existence as a nation. We are sure the incumbent government realises the importance of Pakistan’s strategic relations with Saudi Arabia, and knows how to proceed ahead.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 9th, 2020.