In the wake of the three-day visit of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Saudi Arabia on the invitation of the Saudi King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud and the unusual protocol given to him on arrival by the host and the entire Saudi leadership, the western media as usual has tried to read too much between the lines in regards to the purpose of the visit and its outcome. A US TV channel reported that in view of the developments in the Middle East and the Security threats to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan had committed to provide nuclear cover to the Kingdom, while a Western newspaper went to the extent of saying that Pakistan would also provide troops for providing security to the Kingdom against any perceived threat. Some circles have also insinuated that Pakistan might side with the Saudis in the current tussle between Saudi Arabia and Iran. These assertions have been out rightly rejected by the information minister Pervez Rasheed.

One can expect such preposterous suggestions from the western media which does not let go any opportunity to malign Pakistan and soil its credentials as a responsible nuclear state, but it is unacceptable when a renowned Pakistani journalist not only buys such suggestions but commits the indiscretion of adding to the credibility of such reports without realizing the likely repercussions for the country. Sadly enough the concerned journalist expressing his views in a TV programme last Saturday said “Saudis are threatened by Iranians and Yemen while the Shia population is also demanding rights in the Gulf States and they are in majority in the areas where Saudi Arabia’s oil fields are located. The rise of IS has also become a serious threat. Riyadh has requested the Prime Minister to send 30 to 40 thousand troops and weapons including some missiles. Saudi Arabia wanted to get some security guarantees from Pakistan including arms and nuclear weapons.” I think the journalist transcended all limits of freedom of expression by being reckless on such a sensitive issue which has already created difficulties for Pakistan at the global level in the backdrop of Dr. Qadeer’s episode. Giving sectarian hue to relations between the two countries is also very unfortunate.

There is no denying the fact that the security environment in the Middle East and strained relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran are cause of concern for the rulers of the Kingdom. In view of the special relations between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, consultations between them on such issues are inevitable to say the least. Saudi Arabia has always been extending generous assistance to Pakistan and bailed her out of tight economic situations many a times. The special protocol given to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif by the Saudi leadership is indicative of the strength of the bonds between the two brotherly countries and the personal ties that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has with the Saudi leaders, who hosted him during his exile.

Building strong relations with Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia has been a corner stone of Pakistan’s foreign policy and it is probably due to this factor that it succeeded in uniting the Islamic countries by hosting Islamic Summit in 1974 which also paved the way for export of Pakistani manpower to Gulf States and Saudi Arabia. Shah Faisal extended liberal help in rebuilding Pakistan’s economy. Faisal mosque in Islamabad is a living monument of the eternal bonhomie between the two countries. In the late eighties and early nineties also the Saudis helped Pakistan in tiding over the febrile economy. The Saudis have always stood by Pakistan in every moment of adversity. Be it the devastating earth quake that struck Besham in Northern Areas in 1974, the 2005 earth quake in Azad Kashmir or the floods that hit Pakistan, the Saudis have been in the forefront to help Pakistan. The rulers of Saudi Arabia being custodians of the holy places of Islam are held in the highest esteem by the people of Pakistan as well as its leaders. By virtue of their unique status and the reverence that they enjoy, they have also helped in resolving political feuds within Pakistan on a number of occasions as its true friends. In the backdrop of spiraling prices of oil in the international market in 2008 when Pakistan had to bear the burden of 40% increase in its oil bill, Saudi Arabia offered one year credit facility on the pattern of 1998 when in the wake of nuclear explosions US had imposed economic sanctions against Pakistan. Saudi loan of US$ 2 billion was also converted into a grant.

With regards to disputes between Muslim countries, Pakistan has always played a constructive role in their resolution without taking sides. Therefore the insinuation that Pakistan might side with Saudi Arabia in its tiff with Iran carries no substance. The logic belies the ground realities. Pakistan actually helped in defusing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran over Bahrain in 2012; a role that Pakistan was able to play because of its excellent ties with both the Muslim countries. Even now it can play a positive role in bridging differences between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Realistically speaking the security environment in the Middle East in the wake of the rise of IS, the rampant terrorism and religious extremism are also cause of concern to Pakistan, countries of the region and the world at large. Saudi King and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were right on money in declaring terrorism and religious extremism as their common enemy. Evolving a common strategy to deal with this threat and consultations between brotherly countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are not something out of this world. Such contacts are warranted by the common cause and the strong bonds that exist between the two countries. The present visit has certainly taken the relations between the two countries to yet another higher level as both of them have agreed to strengthen cooperation in all fields, including security which does not necessarily mean military options like providing nuclear cover to Saudi Arabia, as suggested by the western media. Pakistan is a responsible nuclear state and committed to the cause of nuclear non-proliferation and fully understands the repercussions of any such indiscretion. The IS phenomenon is a threat to all the countries of the region and world peace. The US and countries of the region including Turkey, Iran and Gulf States are already on the same page to deal with the threat and Saudi Arabia is not left alone to face it.