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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Pakistan's army chief visits Saudi amid strained relations over Kashmir

Qamer Javed Bajwa held talks in Riyadh with Major General Fayyad al-Ruwaili [Getty]

Date of publication: 18 August, 2020

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General Qamer Javed Bajwa's visit was apparently aimed at easing a rift caused by Pakistan's criticism of the Saudi-led Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Pakistan's army chief arrived in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Monday, officials said, amid strained relations between the two countries over the disputed region of Kashmir.

General Qamer Javed Bajwa's visit was apparently aimed at easing a rift caused by the Pakistani foreign minister's demand for a firm Saudi response to what he called Indian atrocities in Kashmir.

Bajwa held talks in Riyadh with Major General Fayyad al-Ruwaili, the kingdom's chief of general staff, the Saudi defence ministry reported.

"During their meeting, they discussed prospects of military cooperation and ways to support it as well as other areas of common interest," the ministry said in a brief statement.

In a sharply worded statement earlier this month, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi called on the Saudi-led Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to convene a high-level meeting on Kashmir.

"If you cannot convene it, then I'll be compelled to ask Prime Minister Imran Khan to call a meeting of Islamic countries that are ready to stand with us on the issue of Kashmir and support the oppressed Kashmiris," Qureshi was quoted as saying by Pakistani media.

The comment raised eyebrows in Riyadh, where it was widely seen as a warning that Pakistan was preparing to call for a session of Islamic countries outside the OIC.

Riyadh is particularly sensitive about attempts to undermine its leadership of the 57-member pan-Islamic body after Malaysia hosted a Muslim summit last year that was shunned by the kingdom.

Leaders of Muslim nations, including Saudi rivals Iran, Turkey and Qatar, attended the summit in Kuala Lumpur, while Pakistan's Khan cancelled his attendance after Riyadh expressed concerns.

Analysts said the summit was aimed at rivalling the OIC, which is headquartered in the Saudi city of Jeddah. 

"If Foreign Minister Qureshi's veiled reference is towards another Kuala Lumpur-style gathering, then it is a dangerous proposition that could be least expected from a brotherly country," Ali Awadh Asseri, a former Saudi ambassador to Pakistan, wrote in Arab News, a pro-government Saudi daily.

"Will PM Imran Khan remind him to be careful in future, as any damage to our brotherly ties goes against our respective national interests and public aspirations?" Asseri added in a column published on Monday. 

Pakistan and India have clashed over Kashmir since independence from Britain in 1947, with both countries claiming the territory that has sparked two full-blown wars between the foes. 

Saudi Arabia has supported Pakistan, a traditional ally, with billions of dollars in financial aid and loans in recent years.

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