PM`s Saudi visit

IT may have been an exercise in damage limitation, but it will take some time before the success or failure of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif`s trip to Saudi Arabia becomes apparent.

The Saudi regime is notoriously secretive and opaque while the Pakistani leadership often only of fers anodyne statements in matters of foreign policy, so it is hardly a surprise that little insight into Thursday`s meetings in Riyadh with the apex of the Saudi leadership has been offered by either. Yesterday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did put out a statement that for the most part reiterated and rehashed the Pakistani position since the parliamentary resolution on the Yemen conflict. There was though one clue offered: `Pakistan and Saudi Arabia agreed to further expand the existing defence, security and intelligence cooperation,` the statement read in part. Therein may lie either the seeds of recovery for the bilateral relationship or a crisis further down the road.

As became apparent since the Saudi-led coalition began to attack the Houthis in Yemen in late March, much of the Arab expectations of Pakistan in the Yemen conflict appear to be based on a difference in understanding between what the Saudi leadership comprehended or expected and what the Pakistani leadership asserted. Clearly delineated, however, deepening the existing defence cooperation in general terms and not with specific reference to Yemen with Saudi Arabia could help repair at least some of the damage caused by the Pakistani rejection of Riyadh`s demands to participate militarily in the conflict. Saudi Arabia has invested billions of dollars in upgrading its military resources in recent years, but there is a sense that it is still learning about the human aspect of building a formidable war machine.

Pakistani assistance in intelligence, training and military strategy could prove valuable to the Saudi regime in the defence of its own territory against potential enemies, without putting Pakistan`s soldiers and military resources in harm`s way. That aside, it is to be hoped that the Pakistani leadership pressed home its own concerns regarding the Saudi Arabian and GCC criticism against Pakistan in recent weeks.

Millions of Pakistanis employed in those countries are uncertain about their economic and employment future because of the unprecedented barrage of criticism directed at Pakistan, and it is incumbent on the leadership here to work to assuage their concerns. While it is necessary to reach out to the foreign leaderships, it is also important to assuage the legitimate concerns of Pakistanis living abroad.

Published in Dawn