Much to Pakistan’s dismay and India’s delight, Saudi Arabia maintained neutrality over the Kashmir issue, even when Islamabad is making all efforts to mend its relations with the Gulf country and is wooing it to change its stance. Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, his government has had good relations with Saudi Arabia. After the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Riyadh in October 2019, Saudi Arabia has maintained neutrality over Kashmir and backed India on cross-border terrorism, said Abhinav Pandya, a strategic analyst and the CEO of Usanas Foundation, an India based think tank, told The Epoch Times.
The Saudis have had ambiguous stands on Kashmir on various global diplomatic forums–many times they supported Pakistan’s stance before they recently took to neutrality in India’s favour. “Three events of 1979 had a direct impact on Kashmir [seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the Islamic Revolution of Iran, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanista ” said Pandya.
“After 1979, the Saudis sponsored Wahhabism across the globe.” Muslim majority Kashmir became a “natural choice for Wahhabi proselytization” because of the deep penetration of Pakistan, which had historically close relations with the Saudis, added Pandya. The rift between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia started when Riyadh didn’t heed Pakistan’s demand to call a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC, which Saudi Arabia leads) to discuss the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s original political status by the Modi government.
“Pakistan Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi asked Saudis to show “leadership” and threatened that if Saudi doesn’t call a meeting of the foreign ministers of the OIC over Kashmir, Pakistan will be forced to go to Iran, Malaysia, and Turkey for support,” said Madiha Afzal, in an analysis for the Brookings Institute. Meanwhile, the Saudis also denied permission to the Pakistan embassy in Riyadh and the consulate in Jeddah to organise Kashmir black day programs on October 27 last year.
The ruler of Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India on October 27, 1947, and Pakistan observes that date as the Kashmir Black Day every year. In recent years, India’s relationships with the Arab countries have significantly improved, particularly with Saudi Arabia because India is an emerging economy and a key global market.
“Riyadh, like many countries, sees India as an important player, as a key market and a country that it doesn’t want to antagonize. Obviously, if you refrain from supporting the Kashmir cause publicly that certainly will help your cause with India,” said Michael Kugelman, the Deputy Director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC. There are multiple geopolitical reasons vis-a-vis Pakistan that have influenced the Saudi stance over Kashmir.
Afzal said that Saudis didn’t take kindly to Pakistan’s “overt pressure” last year and immediately recalled a USD 1 billion loan it gave to Pakistan in 2018 as part of a USD 3 billion loan. Hamid Bahrami, author and an independent Middle East analyst based in Glasgow, told The Epoch Times over a chat platform that new and asymmetric blocks are emerging in the geopolitical arena, and the Saudis have lost some interest in its relationship with Pakistan, which is impacting the Saudi stance over Kashmir as well.
“Since Pakistan has disappointed Saudi regarding the war in Yemen, and Pakistan took neutrality between Saudi and Iran, MBS (Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman) has been convinced that the current Pakistani approach is not favouring him,” said Bahrami. “Moreover, Pakistan political establishment has a positive view of MBS’ political rival inside the Saudi royal family.”
Bahrami said the close relations of Saudis with the United States and Pakistan’s close ties with US rival China also add to the dynamics of foreign policies in Kashmir. “The main threat is China, and unfortunately, Pakistan is paving Beijing’s way to access the Middle East through the port of Gwadar. This is a serious threat to the Saudi-US camp. I consider Iran-Pakistan-Turkey-China-Russia as an asymmetric camp with different interests but the same rivals,” said Bahrami. The United States and Saudis are moving closer to India than to Pakistan to control China and the emerging asymmetric camp, he said.
“If we want to get deeper, MBS’ view about geopolitics and protecting Saudi interests is not based on a religious agenda of supporting Wahhabism. MBS’ seeks economic development under ‘Vision 2030’ and Pakistan does not have enough capacity for a profitable bilateral relation with Saudi,” said Bahrami. Moreover, the Chinese equation with Pakistan has complicated the situation, and MBS, according to Bahrami, is sending a warning to Pakistan.