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Saudi Arabia’s Meet and Greet with the COAS- Where Does this Leave Canada?

Saudi Arabia’s Meet and Greet with the COAS- Where Does this Leave Canada?

Saniya Rashid

In an interesting foreign relations development, Saudi Arabia has expressed solidarity with Pakistan for the implementation of a prosperous Naya Pakistan.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman on Tuesday evening met Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa in Mina and conveyed his wishes and support for the newly elected Pakistani government, the military’s media wing said. The meeting comes days after Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud and the crown prince congratulated Prime Minister Imran Khan on his party’s victory in last month’s general elections.

This development comes just two days after Imran Khan had a telephonic conversation with Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.

Trudeau expressed interest in working with Khan on a host of different issues such as human rights, education etc. Interestingly enough, Saudi Arabia currently has an ongoing spat with Canada, which makes this quite a tricky situation. That too, over a potential human rights violation situation in which Canada urged the swift release of activist Samar Badawi and other rights activists from Saudi prisons. Saudi Arabia responded to this quite aggressively, saying that ‘interference’ in internal affairs of the Kingdom will not be tolerated whatsoever. The debacle that unfolded is certainly one not lost on global observers.

What’s most interesting is that a military leader, the COAS, is revealing this information about Saudi interests in working with the ‘government’ of Pakistan. 

The intense debates over the potential involvement of the establishment in the General Elections 2018 are still looming over Pakistan in the aftermath of Khan’s big win. Moreover, the civilian government is a separate entity from the military establishment. At least in theory as we know it. Notions of religion and national duty as seen in the army, have always been heavily entwined in Pakistan. And Saudi backing the government via the COAS is just a byproduct of this relationship. Sure, the meeting might just have been circumstantial if Gen Bajwa was already there. But one cannot overlook the truth that there is a sympathy for the idea of a global Muslim brotherhood within Pakistan and that the army is certainly more of the symbolic figurehead of this ideal as opposed to the civilian government.

So this use of the religious and patriotic sentiment will quite possibly overlook the more general development based on human rights as promised by Canada to Imran Khan, the premier of the civil government.

Moreover, Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s powerful statement about foreign policy just spices up this entire situation. 

In response to an American journalist’s question about involvement of establishment in the foreign policy of the country, Qureshi said that the policy will only be made at the foreign office. However, he also talked about the norm of taking advice from the countries security forces (i.e. the army). He was adamant about the fact that foreign policy is made strictly in the foreign office and it was certainly a befitting reply to the western superpower. However, he did not exactly disagree to the notion that defense forces have a role to play in the enactment of the policy.

The only trouble is that this statement problematizes the nexus of foreign relations between Canada, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Will the influence of the defense forces be enough to sway the winds in favor of Saudi Arabia. Or will Imran Khan”s Naya Pakistan stand its ground and keep maintaining friendly foreign relations with Canada, a western ally that we certainly cannot afford to turn our backs to?


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