According to reports, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has accepted the invitation of the new Saudi monarch, King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, to visit the oil-rich Kingdom from March 3. King Salman’s invitation comes in the course of his bilateral talks with several foreign leaders in the first month of his rule. In the past month or so, the King has received the US President Barack Obama, Britain’s Prince Charles, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Palestine’s President Mahmoud Abbas, and several other Gulf leaders. In the next few days, Turkish President Receb Teyyip Erdogan and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi are also scheduled to visit Riyadh.

From the Saudi point of view, it would be very much a routine secretive meeting in continuation of well-understood terms of engagement: the new King is not expected to introduce any extraordinary shift in Saudi foreign policy in general or towards Pakistan in particular, and Mr. Sharif is already familiar with and indebted to the Saudi Royal family who were his hosts in exile.

However, Pakistan – as a nation - has entered into a new phase in its life where it needs to significantly redesign the terms of its relationship with the Kingdom. While the economic and military ties between the two countries would continue to be mutually beneficial, Pakistan can no longer accommodate the fundamentalist version of Islam propagated by the House of Saud. Ever since Independence, Pakistan has kept the door open for a Saudi-like model of “Shariah from above” – the need and desire to impose Shariah with necessary force being the primary principle of state policy. However, after 68 years of extravagant and tragic experimentation and evolution, especially since Zia’s rise to power, Pakistan has finally reached a consensus on “Shariah with consent” – the need and desire to have an understanding of Islam that does not lead to one self-professed Muslim killing another self-professed Muslim in the name of Islam. Pakistan is finally coming to terms with the idea of a territorial nation state where laws cannot be made except by the people living in that territory with mutual understanding and consent.

It is therefore hoped that the Prime Minister would apprise the new King of the shift in Pakistan’s state policy towards religion’s role in society and develop a clear understanding with him: all other things being the same, Pakistan would no longer promote or accommodate the Saudi version of Islam within its territories.