Saudi Arabia and its longtime ally Pakistan signed several agreements on Saturday and vowed to revive close ties for months of disagreement over Kashmir’s dispute policy.
On his seventh visit to the rich kingdom since his 2018 election, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan received a warm welcome from Saudi officials in the west coast city of Jeddah.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, received him at the airport before holding talks with Saudi officials at Al-Salam Palace in Jeddah.
“They affirmed the depth of relations between the two sister countries and stressed the importance of expanding and intensifying aspects of bilateral cooperation and coordination,” a Saudi statement said.
Although the kingdom was the first foreign country Khan visited after taking office, Riyadh seemed frustrated with Islamabad last year.
In a statement drafted in August, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi called on the Saudi-based Islamic Cooperation Organization (ICO) to convene a high-level meeting in Kashmir.
The call raised eyebrows at Riyadh, where it was widely seen as a warning that Pakistan was preparing to convene a session outside the auspices of the OIC.
Saudi Arabia prides itself on its role as guardian of Islam’s holiest sites and is particularly sensitive to any movement that could undermine its leadership of the 57-member pan-Islamic body.
While the kingdom has backed Pakistan with billions of dollars in aid and loans in recent years, observers say it is also willing not to disturb India, a major trading partner and importer of Saudi oil.
The kingdom recalled $ 1 billion from a $ 3 billion loan to Pakistan, which had no cash, and a $ 1 billion oil credit facility in Islamabad has not been renewed, a diplomatic source told the AFP news agency in September.
Earlier, Pakistan rejected calls to send ground troops to support the troubled Saudi-led military campaign against Yemen’s Houthi rebels. But Khan’s visit seemed to restore cooperation between the two countries engaged in the “war on terror,” which requires an effective exchange of intelligence.
“Both sides stressed the need for a concerted effort by the Islamic world to confront extremism and violence and reject sectarianism,” the Saudi statement said.
“Deepen and diversify”
The official Saudi news agency said the two sides signed agreements to deal with criminals and crime. They also agreed on two memoranda of understanding on the fight against drug trafficking and on the financing of energy, water and infrastructure projects.
The two countries also agreed to establish a Supreme Saudi-Pakistan Coordination Council.
“During the meeting, it was agreed to further strengthen, deepen and diversify existing bilateral political, economic, trade, defense and security ties,” a Pakistani statement said.
“The talks were marked by exceptional cordiality and a commitment to strengthen the upward trajectory in the bilateral relationship,” he added.
Pakistan maintains close relations with Saudi Arabia, with more than 2.5 million citizens living and working in the kingdom, but it also maintains close relations with Iran and represents Tehran’s consular interests in the United States.
For decades, Pakistan has tried to balance its strong relationship with Saudi Arabia and its ties with Iran, with which it shares a border close to 1,000 km (625 miles).
In 2019, Khan traveled between Saudi Arabia and Iran to try to calm animosities between rival powers.
His visit to Jeddah comes as Saudi Arabia and Iran hold secret talks in Iraq, the first significant effort to calm tensions since regional powers cut ties in 2016 after Iranian protesters, enraged by the execution of a Shiite cleric of the kingdom, attacked the Saudi diplomatic missions.
“Pakistan’s visit to Saudi Arabia is a major milestone in bilateral relations,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said on Saturday.
“The kingdom wants to further strengthen relations between the sister countries and allow for broader economic cooperation.”