Saudi Arabia needs Pakistan to contain the Iranian influence in the region; and while Iran has continued to get closer to India and had offered India, the Iranian port and access to Afghanistan via Chabahar, Pakistan had watched nervously.
The Saudi-Pakistan strategic partnership is not new but deep rooted and historic. Following the departure of the military ruler Musharraf and the coming of the PPP in power, it reached an all-time low. But as soon as Nawaz Sharif came to power, his first goal was to mend the strained relationship with one of Pakistan’s trusted key allies, which has been a major donor in times of crisis in Pakistan. Following the first high level visit in six years by the Saudi Foreign Minister last month, it was a signal that the relationship is warming up. Saudi Arabia needs Pakistan to contain the Iranian influence in the region; and while Iran has continued to get closer to India and had offered India, the Iranian port and access to Afghanistan via Chabahar, Pakistan had watched nervously.
Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the USA also appears to be strained, particularly in connection with Syria. The USA has been hesitant to act on Syria, which has forced the Saudis look to the east at their old allies. The Syrian conflict is spreading fast, and with several factions like ISIL, Al-Nusra, the Iranian backed Assad regime, and the Qatari and Turkey backed rebels all fighting each other, the Saudi borders are under a grave threat. Saudi Arabia fears that fighters from Syria can enter Saudi Arabia to destabilize the kingdom and, in particular, sacrilege the religious sites. Pakistani troops have served long in the kingdom, since the early 70s. Having a large Pakistani force inside the kingdom for internal security is less controversial, since Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are both Muslim countries with the same ideology. Also, having Pakistan as a partner can boost the Saudi outreach in the Muslim world.
Raheel Sharif, the new Pak Army Chief is on a three day visit to Saudi Arabia. This is his first foreign trip after taking charge of the Army Chief Office. Analysts and rival states like Iran are watching this development closely as to what the Pakistani Chief will offer during this visit. Some say that it is a routine trip, while others predict that this trip took place after the Saudis have shown interest to purchase JF17 (Pak-China joint fighter plane), along with technology transfer to Saudi Arabia. We expect some defense agreements to be signed for training and security cooperation during his visit to the kingdom.
The Saudi Crown Prince will be in Pakistan from the 15th to the 17th of February, and he will be visiting key defense installations and signing some agreements. Also, the Interior Minister’s visit was due in late January, but was postponed due to some urgent work. All these high level visits point to a warming relationship between the two countries and some kind of defense mechanism in the making which will be revealed in the coming months.