There For Each Other: Saudi Arabia & Pakistan

Saudi Arabia may not be Pakistan’s “all weather” friend as China claims to be but the two countries have almost always been there when the other one needed.

From the outset, the two countries “completed” each other— one’s weakness was other’s strength. Together, they looked after each other. Saudi Arabia was & is the spiritual leader of Sunni Islam but lacked human capital. In the 1960s, Saudi Arabia would send the members of its military to Pakistan for training. Pakistan, which got a disproportionate military strength after partition, was good at that job. In the 1960s, it was Pakistani military officers who helped Saudi Arabia a great deal in building an army & air force. By helping Saudi Arabia against Nasser, a republican who overthrew the monarchy in Egypt & helped to do the same in Yemen, the Pakistani military was able to keep its men busy after the 1965 war with India.

In the 1970s, a Pakistani battalion was stationed in Saudi Arabia’s southern border to repulse the Yemenis. Some Pakistani men were also stationed on the border with Israel & Jordan. Nawaf Obeid, a former adviser to the Saudi government from 2004 to 2015 said:

We gave money and the Pakistanis dealt with it as they saw fit… There is no documentation, but there is an implicit understanding that on everything, in particular, on security and military issues, Pakistan will be there for Saudi Arabia.

By the 1970s, Saudi Arabia has become quite wealthy due to oil money. Pakistan, as we know, is naturally great at being nice to the wealthy guys in the gang. After the 1971 war, Pakistani tapped into the Saudi coffers to fund its defence budgets. Whenever it was in economic stress, Saudi Chachu would always come to rescue. Saudis would send massive aid to Pakistan & a large number of military personnel would go the other way. In the 1980s, the Crown Prince Fawad even went on to say that the security of Saudi Arabia was intrinsically tied to that of Pakistan’s.

Pakistan, being too far away, never posed a risk to Saudi’s hegemony in the middle east. So, Saudi Arabia could give massive aid to Pakistan without worrying about the monster getting too large. Add to the equation their relationship with the US; It only reinforced the already great bond. The Saudi-Pakistan relationship has a long history. It’s nothing new.

What should India do?

There’s just one big point where the interest of the two countries diverge— Iran. Saudis hate Iran— they would love if it didn’t exist. Pakistan tries to act with caution in its relations with Iran. They don’t want to get embroiled in the Saudi-Iranian rivalry. Iran & Pakistan both have a significant Baloch population & they would like to keep the border as stable as possible so that the Balochis do not start any trouble. In 2012, Pakistan even refused to join an Arab League-sponsored plan against Iran that was promoted by the Saudis.

If Pakistan is forced to give up its neutral stance in the Iran-Saudi rivalry, that can strain the friendship. We, Indians, should be good to Iranians as well as to Saudis. Anyway, Saudis have considerably brought down their rhetoric against India when it is about the Kashmir issue. Saudis have been trying to be good with India for a good amount of time now. So, it’s better we keep in mind the history of Saudi-Pakistan relationship when we read the news of Saudi-Pak bonhomie.

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