Pakistan Reader# 271, 11 January 2022
On 5 January 2022, Pakistan and the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states' with an aim of boosting co-operation between the two partners finalised an action plan for Strategic dialogue (2022-2026). This plan would provide an institutional approach to the co-operation framework. The warm relationship between GCC members states and Pakistan go back to the days when Pakistan turned towards the middle east as a source of separate Islamic identity. The relationship between GCC member states and Pakistan has always been a two-way street with both partners contributing equally to nurture the existing bond.
Importance of GCC to Pakistan
Each of the GCC member states provides tremendous economic opportunities to Pakistani nationals. GCC region occupies the topmost position in providing remittances to Pakistan among which Saudi Arabia and UAE occupy the top two positions. Like most of the countries in Asia, Pakistan is also dependent on GCC countries for getting crude oil and LNG. UAE is the largest exporter of oil products to Pakistan while Qatar occupies the top position in LNG export. Pakistan also receives economic assistance and investments from GCC member states. Pakistan received USD three billion in loans and oil worth USD 3.2 billion on deferred payments during the 2018 visit of PM Imran Khan to Saudi Arabia. Similarly, in 2014, Saudi Arabia helped Pakistan by giving USD 1.5 billion. In 2019, Saudi Arabia signed agreements with Pakistan for investing USD 20 billion. Similarly, in 2020, UAE decided to provide 200 million dollars aid to Pakistan to help the small and medium businesses.
Importance of Pakistan to GCC
GCC member states benefitted hugely from the military assistance provided by Pakistani forces. Frequent visits are made on both sides by the top officials of the military, the latest being General Bajwa’s visit to Saudi Arabia in 2020 and to Qatar in 2021. Pakistan had signed a military pact with UAE in 2006 that gave further depth to the bond shared by the two nations. Historically, there has been a strong presence of Pakistani officers in the UAE air force, Omani Navy and Saudi Arabia which still continues to date. Pakistan military had played a significant role in freeing of Grand Mosque from the capture of fundamentalist forces in 1979. Saudi Arabia and Qatar currently house around 1600 and 647 Pakistani troops respectively. Apart from military expertise, the GCC countries also see Pakistan as a centre through which it can increase its ideological reach. The Saudi brand of Wahabi Islam is gaining immense popularity in Pakistan owing to Saudi investments in Madarsas.
Rift between GCC and Pakistan
The relations between GCC member states and Pakistan have not been always smooth. In addition to the bitter disappointment of GCC member states caused by Pakistan’s decision of not sending troops to Yemen in 2015, Pakistan also experienced tensions in its relations with Saudi Arabia when it called for moving to countries like Turkey, Iran and Malaysia for challenging India’s decision to change the status of Kashmir. Pakistan was furious over Saudi Arabia’s silence over the matter whereas Saudi Arabia was stunned by Pakistan’s action of approaching its adversaries. In response, Saudi Arabia had cancelled USD one billion dollars out of the three-billion-dollar loan it had promised to give in 2018. The finalisation of the strategic dialogue could thus prove to be an important step that can help normalise Saudi-Pak ties.
With the two partners finalising an action plan for the strategic dialogue, the future of Pakistan-GCC ties appears promising. With the rejuvenation plans of GCC member states such as the Saudi vision 2030, Kuwait vision 2035 and Oman vision 2040, Pakistani skilled workers would have tremendous economic opportunities thereby possibly increasing the flow of remittances into the country. The strategic dialogue would also provide Pakistan with an opportunity to engage more with countries like Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain that are not as much prioritised as Saudi Arabia and UAE. Also, the economic ties between the two would be further strengthened by the involvement of GCC member states in CPEC who have already expressed their willingness about investing in the energy projects as the member states look to diversify their economy.
“Pakistan, GCC finalise action plan for strategic dialogue,” Dawn, 6 January 2021
“Record remittances,” Dawn, 21 May 2021
James Cockayne, Peter Stevenson “Pakistan’s Oil and Gas imports: Gulf Dependence Intensifies,” mees, 18 October 2019
Mehreen Zahra-Malik, “Saudi Arabia loans Pakistan $1.5 billion to shore up economy,” Reuters, 13 March 2014
“UAE extends $200 million aid to Pakistan for economic projects,” The Hindu, 3 January 2020
Umer Karim, “Why has Pakistan sent troops to Saudi Arabia,” LSE, 12 April 2018
Madiha Afzal, “The Pakistan Saudi Arabia relationship hits a bump in the road,” Brookings 24 August 2020
Arhama Siddiqa, “Why Pakistan’s influence in the Gulf is waning,” Middle East Eye, 5 March 2021