After offending its key ally, Pak Army Chief to visit Saudi Arabia on Aug 16

 

New Delhi, Aug 13: After offending its once key ally Saudi Arabia on Kashmir, Pakistan in a damage control exercise, is rushing Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa to Riyadh on August 16 to explain Islamabad’s position.

The Army Chief will visit Saudi Arabia “this weekend” seeking to calm diplomatic strains over Kashmir as financial support for Islamabad “hangs in balance”, The Dawn said.

Although Pakistan government has not so far officially announced the date for the visit, sources said it would be on August 16.

Gen Bajwa had also met the Saudi Ambassador in Islamabad to clarify Pakistan’s position.

Differences between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan deepened over Islamabad’s hardline stance on Kashmir with Saudi Arabia ending a loan and oil supply after Pakistan threatened to split the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation(OIC).

The differences surfaced when Saudi Arabia, irked over Pakistan’s remarks, asked it to pay back USD one billion. Pakistan has also not received the oil on deferred payments from Saudi Arabia since May under an agreement between the two former allies for provision of USD 3.2 billion worth the fuel.

 

Pakistan has been pressuring Saudi Arabia to convene a meeting of Foreign Ministers of the 57-member OIC on Kashmir. However, Saudi Arabia has rejected the demand.

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had asked Saudi Arabia to convene a meeting of Foreign Ministers of the block of Islamic countries after abrogation of Article 370. Mr Qureshi had threatened that if Saudi Arabia did not support Pakistan, Islamabad would call a meeting of those Islamic countries “who stand with us on Kashmir.’’ This amounted to splitting the 57 member block of Islamic countries.

‘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 will be compelled to ask Prime Minister Imran Khan to call a meeting of the Islamic countries that stand with us,” Qureshi had said.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan also expressed disappointment over Saudi Arabia’s refusal to hold a meeting on Kashmir and said Islamic countries were divided and could not come together for a meeting on Kashmir.

Pakistan Foreign Ministry later in a damage control exercise, described Qureshi’s remarks as ‘’off the cuff’’ and not against diplomatic norms.

However, the explanation did not cut much ice with Saudi Arabia. Qureshi also tried to hold a press conference but cancelled it and instead Islamabad decided to rush the Army Chief to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan had signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) worth USD 20 billion during Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s visit to Pakistan in February 2019.

According to the MOUs, the agreement of USD 3 billion cash support and USD 3.2 billion oil facility per annum had the provision of renewal for two more years.

The UAE had also announced a USD 6.2 billion package for Pakistan in December 2018, including a USD 3.2 billion oil facility.

Pakistan has already returned USD one billion Saudi loan-four months ahead of its repayment schedule. Pakistan has said it could also return the remaining USD 2 billion cash loan subject to availability of a similar facility from China.

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