Lately the Pakistani-Saudi strategic partnership has been wrapped in a great amount of ambiguity.
Soon after the official declaration of the Saudi led Islamic military alliance in 2015- Pakistan was initially caught by surprise to find its name enlisted under the coalition partners. However , after some confusion , the following day Pakistani official statements confirmed its participation in this alliance in order to ‘fight terrorism’ ; back then the foreign office further clarified that the extent of Pakistan’s participation would only be determined once Riyadh explains the objectives of the alliance.
Prior to this , Pakistan is said to have been caught in another ‘off guard’ moment when Saudi Arabia supposedly enlisted Pakistan as a coalition member in its Yemeni war. Though , this confusion witnessed a large degree of rest when a parliamentary resolution opted for neutrality in the conflict- one of the prime reasons stated for maintaining this posture, was the adverse local implications from sectarian undertones of the Yemen conflict.
However, one fine print in the resolution also discussed Pakistan’s full support if in case the Saudi territorial integrity was ever under threat. This elastic phrase sought to find its new shape as the former COAS stepped into his retirement phase. So far, the matter of his appointment has attracted a lot of debate.
One core reason for that, appears to be glitches in segregating the former COAS from the institution he belongs to; at this point his appointment is largely viewed as Pakistan positioning itself on the frontline in the Middle East wars.
The rapid fluxes of official stances- on his new job- further mustered confusion around the nation’s role in this alliance. Earlier this year, the Defence Ministry initially refused to even acknowledge the job offer; this stance slowly evolved towards debating the legality of this appointment- this inadequately addressed matter was then replaced by the NOC issue.
It is perhaps how the NOC issue played, where one could draw apprehensions and easily blur the line between the role of the COAS and the institution in relation to the alliance. Because, the initial official stance of the Defence Minister was that the COAS could only apply for an NOC once the ToR’s had been revealed and debated on in parliament; however in actuality- the NOC was offered prior to the ToR revelation–which are still pending.
So far, the foreign office has recently reiterated that it would wait for the ToR’s before finalising the scope of Pakistan’s participation in the alliance–militarily. But speculations regarding possibilities of certain back channel agreements and lack of transparency on the entire matter continue to linger.
The ToRs were due to be released in May at a grand event in the Kingdom– in a scary sense, the recent Arab summit could be viewed in part as providing an insight on Riyadh’s objectives.
Though, optimistically observing the discourses of this event ; one could try and stretch this as far as– dividing the framework of the objectives into two broad chapters : one that deals with transnational terrorism and the other that tackles Iran centric threats. Naturally, it’s a slippery slope as the conflicts are deeply intertwined. Pakistan on its part – already maintains bilateral security ties with Saudi Arabia , it also cooperates with KSA on countering terrorism; these existing ties could further muddle the matter, therefore it is of critical importance to shed clarity on this topic in order to maintain good ties with Iran and Saudi.
For starters , the role of the COAS and the role of Pak military in relation to this alliance needs to be segregated and addressed as two separate areas clearly– Further, keeping in view the rhetoric spelled at the recent events, the long term consequences of excessively attaching Pakistan’s name to decision making process of the alliance, needs to be weighed in.
Secondly , according to the Saudi foreign minister , the extent of Participation of each nation is up to their discretion; Pakistan so far upholds its claims of waiting for the ToRs before finalising the military’s role in this alliance– this area should not be rushed into, and needs careful assessment.
Lastly, for Pakistan this matter transcends the scope of bilateral state ties and carries the possibility to create certain blowbacks locally, therefore it is imperative to maintain clear dialogue, distinctions and adhere to transparency, the decisions should be taken based on popular consent.