Under Sharif, Pakistan’s equations with Saudi Arabia and Iran will change
Exactly one year ago, the Indian media speculated about the rapprochement between New Delhi and Riyadh after the Saudis handed over a key figure (carrying a Pakistani passport) to the Union government: Abu Jundal, the man who was allegedly on the phone with the LeT terrorists during the Mumbai attacks of November 2008. In 2010, Manmohan Singh had signed the “Riyadh Declaration” during a most successful visit: India and Saudi Arabia committed themselves to sharing information on terrorist activities and signed an extradition treaty indeed, in addition to Jundal, the Saudis have extradited two other alleged members of the Indian Mujahideen, A. Rayees and Fasih Mehmood, in October 2012. This year, in January, A.K. Antony paid his first visit to his opposite number in the Saudi government. Pakistani authorities were very nervous about these developments, which went on a par with an increasing mutual dependence in the domain of energy, since India has become the fourth-largest customer of the Saudis for oil (after Iran lost ground on the Indian list because of sanctions).
But that was before the comeback of Nawaz Sharif, at a time when Pakistan was ruled by a PPP government the Saudis disliked openly. As early as October 2008, a few weeks after the election of Asif Zardari as president, the deputy chief of mission of Pakistan in Riyadh told his opposite number of the American embassy that the Saudi government would not help Pakistan (which eventually got only $300 million of aid in 2008) and would be “waiting for the Zardari government to fall” (US embassy cable dated October 16, 2008 revealed by WikiLeaks). The Saudis had no confidence in Zardari, who, they suspected, was a Shia (ibid April 9, 2009).
As a result, they cultivated their relationship with the army (thanks to which Islamabad got $700 million of aid in 2009 at the Pakistan donors’ conference in Japan) and, in parallel, they prepared for the comeback of Nawaz Sharif. Here, one needs to realise that, since the 1970s, as the Saudi ambassador to the US, Adel al-Jubeir, once said, Saudis “are not observers in Pakistan, we are participants”. Indeed, Riyadh keeps interceding and mediating not only between the US and Islamabad but also between the Pakistani army and the civilians, as evident from its role in