12 official visits in as many months indicate importance of Pak-Saudi ties
By Khawar Ghumman | 5/25/2015

ISLAMABAD: The looming crisis in the Middle East, where a Saudi-led coalition of Gulf countries is fighting off an uprising in Yemen, has definitely taken a toll on Pakistan as well.

Even though a joint sitting of parliament decided against sending troops to Saudi Arabia in April this year, the current government`s continued engagement with the Saudis shows how highly it values ties with the kingdom.

In just the past 12 months, as per official Foreign Office (FO) documents, at least 12 separate high-powered Pakistani delegations have visited Saudi Arabia, mostly to discuss `[the] crisis in Yemen and defence related cooperation between the two countries`.

Following five days of lively debate in a special joint sitting of both houses, parliament passed a unanimous resolution supporting the government`s commitment to protect Saudi Arabia`s territory in case it came under attack.

However, the legislature asked the government to stay away from the Yemen conflict, where troops from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) continue to engage what they call a `rebel Houthi uprising` These visits to Saudi Arabia between April 2014 and April 2015 come to an average of one visit per month and have featured military and civilian government officials.

Following the parliament session in April, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif went to Saudi Arabia at the head of a powerful delegation, which included Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, PM`s Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi and the foreign secretary.

The visit was reportedly meant to remove misgivings, which had arisen after the parliamentary resolution refusing to send boots on the ground.

Earlier that month, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had accompanied ad-hoc foreign minister Sartaj Aziz, the foreign secretary and the army`s chief of general staff (CGS) to Saudi Arabia. `The visit was in the context of Yemen crisis,` was how the official document, seen by Dawn, explained this trip.

In March, a delegation consisting of Khawaja Asif, Sartaj Aziz, the CGS and senior officers from the Pakistan Air Force, Pakistan Navy and Inter Services Intelligence also visited the Kingdom, again `in the context of the Yemen crisis`.

In February, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Rashad Mahmood had visited Saudi Arabia.

The visit, according to the FO, was aimed at enhancing defence cooperation between the two countries.

In January, the minister for religious affairs led a delegation to discuss arrangements for Haj in 2015.

Before him, PM Nawaz Sharif had also visited Riyadh on two occasions; once to call on the ailing King Abdullah and the next time to attend the late king`s funeral.

In first week of December last year, Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) Admiral Mohammad Zakaullah visited Saudi Arabia at the invitation of Rear Admiral Abdullah Bin Sultan Al Sultan, commander of the Royal Saudi Naval Forces. The visit was also aimed at enhancing naval cooperation between the two countries.

In the third week of July 2014, PM Nawaz Sharif was in Saudi Arabia to perform Umra and meet the Saudi leadership to `exchange views on bilateral issues`. President Mamnoon Hussain also visited Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah.

In June 2014, Chairman Senate Standing Committee on Defence Mushahid Hussain Sayed visited Saudi Arabia at the invitation of the speaker of the Saudi Shura Council. The visit was aimed at enhancing cooperation between the parliaments of the two countries.

Finally, in April last year, General Raheel Sharif visited the Kingdom to witness the Saudi military exercise `Sword of Abdullah`.

Published in Dawn