Riyadh rendezvous: Pakistan in a fix over Saudi request for help against IS
ISLAMABAD: Islamabad is in a fix over whether to accept Riyadh’s request for support to preempt possible military incursions into Saudi Arabia by the Islamic State (IS), the ultra-extremist group which has made significant gains in both Iraq and Syria.The issue was a key item on the agenda during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia, where he received an unprecedented welcome from newly crowned King Salman bin Abdulaziz, a senior government official told The Express Tribune on condition of anonymity.
Premier Nawaz visited the oil-rich kingdom last week on the special invitation of the Saudi monarch, who is believed to be looking up to his closest allies, including Turkey, Egypt and Pakistan, to boost security at Saudi border in a bid to ward off the IS threat.
According to a statement issued by Pakistan’s Foreign Office following talks between the prime minister and the Saudi king, the two leaders shared similar views on all important issues, including the need to combat terrorism.
The senior official confirmed that the two leaders discussed increased security cooperation between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Although he declined to go into detail, it is believed that Riyadh wants Islamabad to send troops to help it in the fight against IS.
In return, the new Saudi monarch has offered Islamabad an economic package, which includes supply of oil on deferred payment, said another official familiar with the discussion.
So far, Prime Minister Nawaz has not given Saudi Arabia any firm assurance over the request. The government is cautious about getting embroiled in any new controversy which could have far-reaching implications for Pakistan.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries as well as the United States formed a coalition last September against IS. But Pakistan attempted to distance itself from any such coalition fearing negative fallout.
Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry recently informed the Senate panel on foreign affairs that Pakistan would not become part of any international coalition against IS. “It [Pakistan] should only support multilateral action against IS under the UN Security Council resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter,” the top diplomat told the committee.
The policy appears to suggest that Pakistan intends to tread a careful path over the IS issue. The cautious approach is attributed to the fact that joining the fight against IS would create more trouble for Pakistan, which is already preoccupied with fighting its own war against several militant groups.
Another factor is that because of Iran, the current government, despite having close ties with the Saudi royal family, does not want to be seen as too much aligned with Saudi Arabia.
The official pointed out that this changing regional and international situation is certainly throwing new challenges for the country on foreign policy issues.