Royal Riyadh snub at Arab-Islamic-US Summit has left Pakistan red-faced

Nawaz Sharif has failed in his current tenure, as he did earlier in the 1990s.

 |  5-minute read |   25-05-2017
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The recent Arab-Islamic-US Summit should serve as a reality check to Pakistan. The country's PM Nawaz Sharif, who has close ties with the Saudi royal family, did not get an opportunity to address the summit, as many had expected.

Saudi Arabia financed Pakistan’s nuclear programme in the eighties. Only recently, Pakistan's former army chief Raheel Sharif was chosen to head a military alliance of 41 Islamic nations. The so-called meeting between US president Donald Trump and the Pakistani PM did not materialise. All that did take place was a hand shake and exchange of pleasantries before the beginning of the summit.

A number of commentators in Pakistan have criticised Pakistan's foreign policy priorities in the aftermath of this snub.

The Pakistani media did circulate stories of Sharif dining with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and the Crown Prince and defence minister Muhammad Bin Salman. But much to Pakistan's embarrassment, the US president mentioned India as one of the key victims of terrorism during the summit.

Mindset of the Pakistani elite

For very long, Islamabad has based its foreign policy on anti-India sentiment, Islamic identity, and being an appendage of one of the great powers. During the Cold War period, Islamabad sought to benefit from strained ties between New Delhi and the US.

Under General Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan fished in troubled waters in Punjab in the 1980s; since the 1990s it has done the same in Kashmir (this is not to say that there were no internal dimensions to both problems - New Delhi’s approach to both issues has been far from flawless).

While there was immense hope that democratic leaders like the late Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif would turn a new leaf in ties with India, they have failed on numerous occasions. Sharif has failed in his current tenure, as he did earlier in the 1990s.

donald1_052517053148.jpgMuch to Pakistan's embarrassment, the US president mentioned India as one of the key victims of terrorism during the summit. Photo: Reuters

Whenever their position gets weakened vis-a-vis the Army, civilian governments take a more anti-India stance. The civilian government’s utterances on Kashmir, including the unequivocal support for elements responsible for violence in the Valley, is a strong reiteration of the same.

Of late, Islamabad has decided to pin-prick India, with China’s fervent support. China, which has invested in the mega project termed China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) or One Belt, One Road, which passes through disputed territory (Gilgit-Baltistan), has repeatedly blocked a UN resolution to declare Masood Azhar’s Jaish-E-Mohammed (JEM) a terrorist organisation.

It would also be important to point out here, that it is not just the GHQ Rawalpindi, but even civilian politicians and diplomats who are stuck in old binaries, and have not understood some major transformations which have taken place over the last decade.

First, it is not just India’s ties with the US, but even GCC countries which have consolidated. Ties between New Delhi and Riyadh, or New Delhi and Abu Dhabi and New Delhi and Doha, are not just transactional buyer-seller relationships or driven by the diaspora.

On the other hand, India is deepening strategic ties with both countries. A glance at joint statements issued during PM Manmohan Singh’s visit to Saudi Arabia in 2010, and visits by PM Narendra Modi to Gulf countries, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, strongly reiterate this point.

During these visits, numerous avenues of cooperation were identified, but the battle against terrorism, advanced energy cooperation and investment were key issues. In the energy sector, India’s ONGC and Saudi’s Aramco have been working towards setting up joint ventures in petrochemical complexes and joint exploration in other parts of the world.

India and UAE signed a deal, according to which UAE's Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) will fill half of an underground crude oil storage facility at Mengaluru that is part of New Delhi’s strategic reserve system.

Interestingly, the other half is filled by Iran. Finally, India and UAE agreed to establish a UAE-India infrastructure investment fund of $75 billion to upgrade Indian infrastructure, which includes railways, ports, roads, airports, and industrial corridors and parks.

India managed to convince all countries on the issue of terrorism and succeeded in extracting explicit condemnation of terrorism in any manifestation - an allusion to Pakistan.

The synergy between both sides is the fundamental transformation taking place within these economies, and is aimed at addressing the aspirations of the youth in India as well as GCC countries. Both sides also realise the changing economic situation globally.

Second, the old ploy of building a trade union against India will not work. While New Delhi is keen to look at SAARC as a way of building bridges through connectivity, Pakistan has sought to obstruct connectivity initiatives within SAARC by refusing to sign the SAARC Motor Agreement, and even at the bilateral level it has denied India land access to Afghanistan and central Asia.

As a result, New Delhi and other countries have sought to follow the SAARC-Pakistan approach. Improvement of economic ties and enhanced connectivity with Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal through projects like the BBIN Corridor. Even in the SAARC satellite all countries participated except for Pakistan.  A number of these countries have strong economic relationships with China, but they also realise the importance of a strong relationship with India.

Third, while India-China ties may have soured and Beijing-Islamabad ties are on a high, economically India has much more to offer Beijing.

Both countries are working together at multilateral forums like BRICS and AIIB and have found common ground on issues like climate change. The Chinese also realise that India has a massive market; they do not need to go beyond the market share of smart phone companies like Xiaomi and Vivo.

The snub at Riyadh was yet another wake up call for Islamabad, which is stuck in a time warp. For now the status quo is unlikely to change.

Also read: Arab-Islamic-US summit: What matters for India is Trump's attack on Iran


Tridivesh Singh Maini and Sandeep Sachdeva

Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi based Policy Analyst associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat. Sandeep Sachdeva is an Independent Policy Analyst and graduate of The Jindal School of International Affairs, Sonipat.

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