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Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) of Saudi Arabia talking to Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan
Image: AFP/Saudi Royal Palace/B. Al-Jaloud

Pakistan risks losing Arab allies over its Kashmir stance

Haroon Janjua Islamabad
August 21, 2020

Lacking support from Arab countries for its stance on the Kashmir dispute, Pakistan is looking for new alliances under China's leadership. How practical is it for Islamabad to pursue its new foreign policy? DW analyzes.


Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi blasted the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation, accusing the OIC of failing to support Pakistan's stance on Kashmir. Qureshi's comments infuriated officials in Saudi Arabia, which plays a key role in the OIC's affairs and froze a $3.2 billion (€2.72 billion) oil credit facility and demanded that Pakistan repay part of a $3 billion loan, according to the Financial Times newspaper.

"I am once again respectfully telling the OIC that a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers is our expectation. If you cannot convene it, then I'll be compelled to ask Prime Minister Imran Khan to call a meeting of the Islamic countries that are ready to stand with us on the issue of Kashmir and support the oppressed Kashmiris," Qureshi told a broadcaster in Pakistan.

"We have our own sensitivities. You have to realize this. Gulf countries should understand this," the foreign minister said.

Later, Qureshi laid out a four-point strategy for the Kashmir issue, which entailed "confronting, exposing and pushing back against New Delhi's intentions; deterring it through military preparedness, conflict resolution and confidence-building; not being distracted by India's actions; and continuing with regional integration projects through participation in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the Economic Cooperation Organization."

The diplomatic row with Saudi Arabia prompted Khan's government to send Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa to Riyadh. "The army chief's visit is being viewed in the context of Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi's criticism of the Saudi Arabia-dominated Organization of Islamic Cooperation," according to the Dawn newspaper.

Kashmiris wary of India-Pakistan border skirmishes

Does Pakistan have a real plan on Kashmir?

Last year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ended the special constitutional status of the Indian state Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The region's autonomy and its own constitution, as well as its special rights for permanent residents, the majority of whom are Muslims, were abolished. Furthermore, the parliament in New Delhi passed a bill to split Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories — J&K and Ladakh — which would be directly administered by New Delhi.

Modi said the move was aimed at ending separatism and remove terrorists from Kashmir. He said that Article 370 was being used as a weapon of terror and that the people of the region were missing out on key laws and protections afforded to people in the rest of India.

Since 1989, Muslim insurgents have been fighting Indian forces in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir – a region of 12 million people, about 70% of whom are Muslim. India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947 over Kashmir, which they both claim in full but rule in part.

Read more: Kashmir: Pakistan's Khan warns of 'genocide of Muslims'

Islamabad condemned New Delhi's move to abrogate Kashmir's special status and urged its allies in the Muslim world to act against India. Experts say it has so far failed to get much support for its Kashmir stance.

"Islamabad wants to push back against the well-founded criticism that Pakistan doesn't really have a plan on Kashmir. It has been waging an international diplomatic offensive over the last year, but this effort — which is not exactly a new thing for a country that has long sought to push the Kashmir issue in global forums — has not garnered the results Islamabad has wanted," Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, told DW.

"And that leads to a natural question: If the international diplomatic campaign doesn't pay off, then what's the second plan," Kugelman added.

Experts also say that Pakistan's foreign policy on Kashmir and India lack clarity, and the country's recent measures, such as the unveiling of a new map showing the entire disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir as its territory, are only meant for domestic consumption.

"The situation needs aggressive diplomacy. Apart from China, Malaysia and Turkey, no other country supports Islamabad on Kashmir," Raja Qaiser Ahmed, an assistant professor of International Relations at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, told DW.

Read more: Pakistan thanks China for 'support on Kashmir issue'

Vali Nasr, an international affairs professor at Johns Hopkins University, told DW that Riyadh is unlikely to take measures against India over New Delhi's Kashmir policy. "Saudi Arabia sees India as an important trading partner. It would prefer to have ties to both India and Pakistan but is clearly no longer willing to support Pakistan [on the Kashmir issue]. The manner with which it is punishing Pakistan also reflects the fact that Islamabad has little leverage with Riyadh," Nasr said.

Pakistan looking for new allies

In the absence of support from powerful Arab nations, Pakistan is looking to strengthen ties with other powers.

"Pakistan's increasing outreach to Iran, Malaysia, and Turkey — and more broadly to Russia, as deepening US-India partnership is reducing the scope of Russia-India ties — is a space to watch in the coming months," said Kugelman. "I don't think we should overstate the damage to Pakistan's relations with Saudi Arabia, but that dust-up does suggest that a new foreign policy framework is taking shape that reasserts Pakistan's deep ties with Beijing while scaling up ties with Russia and with Muslim-majority states outside of the Arab Gulf," he added.

Pakistani ambassador on Kashmir

Amid these changing regional dynamics, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Qureshi began a two-day visit to China on Thursday, which he dubbed "very important" to deepen the strategic partnership between the two countries.

"The visit aims to project Pakistan's political and military leadership's vision," Qureshi said in a video message before leaving for China.

Experts say that Pakistan wants to play a key role in the emerging China-led alliance, which could possibly include Iran as well.

Read more: Can Pakistan's Imran Khan reset ties with Iran?

"In the past, Islamabad tried to get closer to China, Russia and some Southeast Asian states, but except China, no one pushed India to change its position on Kashmir. Pakistan should keep in mind that having close relations with a state does not guarantee consensus on all international disputes," according to Ahmed.

The experts DW spoke to are of the view that Islamabad's desire to be part of new regional alliances may not yield the desired outcome or lead to the permanent solution of its long dispute with India. At the same time, Pakistan may risk further diplomatic isolation by angering Saudi Arabia and its other Gulf allies.

Read more: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gets warm welcome in Pakistan

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