MBS, officials say, is considering giving India membership of OIC.

 

New Delhi: Saudi Arabia, which had in the recent past emerged as one of Pakistan’s strongest allies, is slowly but surely trying to move away from that perception under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). The most recent example of this, which also has an Indian connection, was seen last month, when the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) refused to give permission to the Pakistani embassy in Riyadh and its consulate in Jeddah to “celebrate” “Kashmir black day” on 27 October, which Pakistan observes to mark the anniversary of the day the Indian Army arrived in J&K to fight off the 1947 Pakistani invasion.

On 15 October, officials at the Pakistan embassy had sent a letter to the Saudi Arabian department concerned, seeking cooperation and the necessary security arrangements to “celebrate” “Kashmir black day” on 27 October. However, the Saudi MoFA refused and stated that carrying out any such activities would violate the rules that regulate the ties between the two countries which, among others, call for not carrying out any activity that will harm Saudi Arabia’s interests with any other country.

It is pertinent to mention that Pakistan had observed this “event” in a big way in 2018 which was also attended by senior members of the Saudi administration. The Saudi government had allowed Pakistan to hold an extensive photo exhibition and a full day seminar on the “atrocities” taking place in Kashmir.

Even as ties between MBS and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a personal level and that between the Government of India and that of Saudi Arabia, at a diplomatic level, have strongly evolved in the past few years, the relationship between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia has plummeted.

Last year in February, MBS had visited Pakistan and offered it a much-needed financial package which played an important role in protecting the collapsing economy. However, ties hit rock bottom after Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on 4 August 2020 threatened that it would bypass the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a 57-nation body led by Saudi Arabia, and seek support from other Islamic countries if the OIC did not address Pakistan’s concerns on Kashmir. An upset MBA responded to the threat by withdrawing financial aid to Pakistan following which the Pakistani army stepped in and on 17 August, its chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa personally went to meet MBS, who refused to meet him.

Reached for their comments, Indian officials said that the steps being taken by MBS to move away from Pakistan were in keeping with his long-term plan of reforming Saudi Arabia and changing global perception about it. “MBS wants to build Saudi Arabia into a modern, world-class country that will emerge as a global hub for the service sector. He is working hard to break the image of it being a hub of supporters of radicalism. He knows the future and, therefore, is working on a roadmap that shuns Wahhabism. His obsession lies with changing the perception of Saudi Arabia rather than acting on the directions issued by Pakistan and interfering in issues on Pakistan’s behalf, which, is the font of global terrorism. To move ahead, MBS knows he has to walk with India and not be recognised as Pakistan’s mentor,” a senior government official said.

MBS, officials said, was also seriously considering giving India membership of the OIC, something which it has not done so far under pressure from Pakistan.