It is so easy to be your enemy, but so difficult to be a friend. That statement is attributed to President Thi?u of South Vietnam, who was made to resign by the Americans just days before the fall of Saigon in April 1975. But that statement may equally apply to the difficulties Pakistan faces in remaining on the right side of its Arab friends, notably the Saudis.
It all started when Pakistan’s PM started hobnobbing with the leaders of Turkey and Malaysia at the United National last September, with the objective to find solutions to the problems faced by the Muslims around the world. And it all culminated (hopefully) when Pakistan’s PM skipped a follow-up summit in Kuala Lumpur last weekend. Seeing Turkey lead a pack of major Muslim countries was never going to sit well with Saudis, who have the OIC under their thumb but don’t do much about main Muslim causes.
Under the Saudi pressure, the Malaysian summit had some notable absentees. The first one to fall was Indonesia. Pakistan, which had already accepted the invitation, tried to resist the Saudi pressure. It attempted to placate the Saudis by sending its foreign minister to Riyadh. But that didn’t cut it. The Pakistani PM had to visit the Saudi rulers himself, only to be told to stay away from the moot.
Being told off by the Saudis was a sorry sight for Pakistan, exposing the latter’s diplomatic incompetence and economic weaknesses once more. It is no secret that the Saudi billions as remittances and reserves have created a one-way dependency. Then why did Pakistan sign up for the summit in the first place? Alternatively, why didn’t Pakistan move quickly to allay Saudi concerns about the summit before things went south?
As things stand, the country was apparently blackmailed by its closest friend, and in the process it has let down its moderate-minded Muslim friends. These events also don’t help the so-called advocacy for Kashmir. If anyone was still under the impression that Pakistan took its own decision and didn’t bow to Saudi pressure, better read what the Turkish President had to say about the economic blackmail.
“Unfortunately, we see that Saudi Arabia pressures Pakistan. Now, there are promises that the country has given to Pakistan regarding the central bank. However, more than that, there are 4 million Pakistanis working in Saudi Arabia. They (threaten by saying that they) would send (Pakistanis) back and re-employ Bangladeshi people instead,” said Turkish President Erdogan to a Turkish newspaper over the weekend.
At best, events over the last two weeks paint Pakistan’s “personalized” foreign policy as a disaster. At worst, it appears that the country isn’t that sovereign in making its own diplomatic decisions. Realpolitik would imply that Pakistan, under the current economic conditions, had no choice but to opt out and stay out of harm’s way. But with egg all over its face, and with external economic dependencies only getting deeper, will the state and the society learn the right lessons from this latest foreign policy debacle?