Pakistan’s Relations with Gulf States

Introduction:

Seven Arab states border the Persian Gulf, namely Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). All Persian Gulf states are monarchies. All these Arab states have significant revenues from petroleum. However, the Gulf region has long been one of the most volatile parts of the globe.  Wars, coups d’état, rapid shift of alliances and alignments, numerous intra-Arab and regional conflicts, and constant interventions by the super powers have rocked the region since the discovery of oil.  Pakistan, has always placed development of relations with Gulf States on high priority. Pakistan’s relations with the Gulf States are as follows:

Pak-Saudi Arabia Relations

Although all the Gulf States have fairly close relations with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia stands out as having the closest relations with us. Whether it was wars of 1965, 1971 or sanctions after nuclear tests, Saudi Arabia came forward and helped Pakistan. Both the countries have remained close allies at the time of Afghan War and Global War on Terror. Pakistan had also sent troops to protect the Islamic holy sites in Saudi Arabia during the 1990-1991 Gulf War.

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are leading members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Successive Saudi leaders have visited Pakistan from time to time. King Saud visited Pakistan in 1954, King Faisal visited in 1966 and 1974, and King Khalid in 1976. Similarly, King Fahd as Crown Prince visited Pakistan in 1980 and King Abdullah visited Pakistan as Crown Prince in 1984, 1997, 1998 and 2003.

In early November 2015, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif, made an important visit to Saudi Arabia. He met with King Salman and other top officials in Riyadh, where he stressed Pakistan’s commitment to ensuring the safety and protection of Mecca and Medina, as well as Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity. Saudi Arabia also called for peace and stability in Pakistan and praised the Pakistani military’s efforts to fight terrorism in the ongoing Zarb-i-Azb campaign. Saudi  Arabia  is  also among  the  15  top  export  partners  of  Pakistan  with  which  bilateral  trade volume has gone above US$ 4 billion per annum and is likely to be further increased in the years to come.

Currently, more than 2.2 million Pakistanis are working in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has always supported Pakistan on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir and encouraged Pakistan and India to start confidence building measures.

Pak-UAE Relations

Pakistan and the UAE have always enjoyed close fraternal relations. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan’s friendship with President Ayub Khan led to an exemplary bilateral relationship between Pakistan and the UAE.  General  Ayub Khan  during  that period had solicited through his influence,  an invitation from  Shah of Iran  for  Sheikh Zayed to visit Tehran  as relations  between Abu Dhabi and Iran were tense and almost non-existent. Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto further strengthened the relationship with Sheikh Zayed. The  warmth  and  activity  in relations  diminished  in  Zia’s  era  and  regained  their  warmth  during  General  Pervez Musharraf’s  rule.

Pakistan was one of the biggest recipients of UAE aid in the wake of 2005 earthquake, IDP’s of Swat and 2010 flood devastations. According  to the UAE Foreign Aid Report (2009), the UAE government and  donor  organizations  granted  DH  9  billion  (US$2.45bn)  in  foreign  aid  in  2009.  The UAE committed grants of worth AED 998.5 million ($270 million) through Abu Dhabi Fund for development projects.

In  May  2006,  Pakistan  and  the UAE signed  a  Defence  Cooperation  Agreement  to  further  boost  the  existing  military  relations.  The UAE is appreciative of Pakistan’s role in the international campaign against terrorism. The relationship between the two countries is steadfast and growing due to personal rapport between the leadership of the two countries. Efforts are underway to institutionalize this relationship beyond personal contacts and to make it mutually beneficial. Currently, more  than 1.2  Million  skilled  and  semi-skilled  Pakistanis  are  working  in  the  UAE fortifying Pakistan’s foreign reserves by sending regular remittances. 

Pak-Qatar Relationship

Various high-level visits have been exchanged between Pakistan and Qatar from time to time. The Emir of Qatar paid an official visit to Pakistan in April 1999.  He had previously visited Pakistan in 1991 as Heir Apparent and Defense Minister. Qatar’s  Foreign  Minister  Sheikh  Hamad  bin  Jassim  bin  Jabor  Al-Thani  last  visited  Pakistan  on  December 27, 2002 as the Emir’s Special Envoy. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani paid an official visit to Qatar in 2012.  During the visit, several agreements and MOU were signed mainly on import of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), security cooperation, customs and hydroelectric power development. In 2012, a Qatari delegation, headed by Minister for Energy Muhammad Bin Saleh Al-Saad visited Pakistan. Both sides emphasized  the need to keep up the momentum  of  progress,  including  the  exchange  of  high-level  delegates  in  the  fields  of  energy,  hydropower  generation,  agriculture,  infra-structure  and  aviation,  to  harness  the  full  potential  existing between the two brotherly countries. On 29 Dec 2015, Sheikh Falah Bin Jassim Bin Jabor Al Thani visited Pakistan and met with President Mamnoon Hussain. Both countries also signed worth the LNG deal in December 2015. Further, the presence of  Pakistanis in Qatar and their  active  involvement  in  the  economic  activities  has  strengthened  links  between  the  two  countries.

Pak-Oman Relations

Oman’s location has great strategic importance for Pakistan as it is the closest Arab neighbour in terms of physical distance.  It links the Arabian Peninsula to Pakistan.  Gwadar was formerly part of Oman but was sold to Pakistan in 1958. High level visits have been exchanged between the two countries from time to time.  General  Pervez Musharraf  visited  Oman  in  June  2000  in  his  capacity  as  Chief  Executive  of  Pakistan.  An  agreement  on  Delimitation  of  Maritime  Boundary  between  the  two  countries  was  signed  during  the  visit.

Sultan Qaboos visited Pakistan in April 2001. This was the only time he ever came to Islamabad for a bilateral visit. An agreement to establish a Pakistan-Oman Joint Investment Company (POIC) with a capital of Rs. 1.5 billion to be shared equally was signed. The Sultan donated an amount of US$ 3.6 million for establishment of IT Chairs in Pakistan. Both the states agreed to establish a joint business council between the Chambers of Commerce and Industries of Oman and Pakistan.  Oman has security and defence needs, and has to build alliances with its neighbors. The military relations between Pakistan and Oman are much deeper and are continuing to grow.

Pak-Kuwait Relations

The Emir of Kuwait visited Pakistan in September 1980 soon after assuming office.  General Pervez Musharraf visited Kuwait in November 1999 in his capacity as Chief Executive, and again, as President from 3-4th December, 2005. The Emir of Kuwait visited Pakistan in 2006.  President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani visited Kuwait in 2011. The existing relations between Kuwait and Pakistan are based on common interest, mutual respect and co-operation.  Kuwait perceives Pakistan as a strategically important Muslim country.  The  principled  position  adopted  by  Pakistan  during  the  Gulf  conflict  was  appreciated  by  the  Kuwaiti leadership. After the withdrawal of the Iraqi forces from Kuwait, Pakistan army units played an important role in de-mining operations.  The Pakistani government supported the coalition against Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and sent 11,600 troops. The Government of Kuwait was among the first countries to extend assistance of US$ 100 million for the victims of the earthquake of October 2005. The Chairman of the Kuwaiti  Red  Crescent  Society  in  January  2006  offered  to  build  two  state-of-the-art  hospitals  in  earthquake hit areas. There  has  been  a  frequent  exchange  of  high  level  visits  between  the  two countries.

Kuwait hosts over 160 thousand Pakistani community.  Pakistani  work  force including  doctors  and  other  professionals  actively  and  constructively  are  rendering  their  services  for the development of Kuwait. Kuwait maintains constant interest for the growth and development in economic, trade and investment fields with Pakistan.

Pak-Bahrain Relations

Pakistan and Bahrain enjoy fraternal relations owing to shared interests and common concerns.  The  presence  of  around  45,000  Pakistanis  with  a  noticeable  representation  in  the  security and defence forces of Bahrain is a manifestation of close relations. Almost half of the police force of Bahrain comprises of Pakistani expatriates.  Bahrain is appreciative of the consistent support expressed by Pakistan for its sovereignty, territorial integrity, security and progress.

Bahrain expressed its solidarity in 1998 on Pakistan´s demonstration of nuclear capability. President  Zardari  visited  Bahrain  in  August  2011  on  the  invitation  of  King  Hamad Bin  Isa  Al  Khalifa.  They  agreed  upon  further  promoting  the  existing  Pakistan-Bahrain bilateral ties through enhanced economic interactions, promotion and facilitation  of business community,  providing  mutual  support  to  meet  each  another’s  requirements,  and  taking advantage  of  the  shared  perceptions  on  a  host  of  issues  and  work  hand  in  hand  for  the stability and peace of the region.

Currently, Kuwaiti government has banned visas for Pakistanis, however Pakistan’s government wants that the issue of Kuwaiti bans on visas for Pakistani nationals be resolved urgently.

Pak-Iraq Relations

Iraq and Pakistan established diplomatic relations in 1947. Iraq was the first Arab country to recognize Pakistan. In  2003,  prior  to  the  outbreak  of  the  second  Gulf  War,  the government of Pakistan announced it was opposed to any action against Iraq. After the war Pakistan was willing to send  troops  to  Iraq  for  peacekeeping,  if  the  Iraqi  people  wanted  it. Pakistan  has  strongly  supported  Iraq’s  territorial  integrity  and  does  not  support Kurdish separation. Over the years, the relationship  between Iraq and Pakistan has developed further  and  Pakistan  played  an  important  role  in  recent  years  in the  development  of  Iraq.

Pakistan was one of the first countries which opened its Diplomatic Mission in Baghdad after the US withdrew its forces.

Areas of Common Interest between Pakistan and Gulf States

  • The Gulf  countries  have  both  the  geo-strategic  as  well  as  geo-political  interest  in Pakistan. Pakistan  maintains  close  military  ties  with  all  Gulf  States  especially  Saudi  Arabia, UAE, Oman and Bahrain. Mutual understanding exists between Pakistan and Gulf States on all international political issues.
  • Gulf countries are dependent on Pak for military assistance and Pakistan is dependent on Gulf States for petroleum. Pakistan provides extensive support, arms and training for the military machines of these countries.
  • On the economic side, Pakistan enjoys formalized bilateral and multilateral relations with Gulf States in the sphere of trade, security and economic development. It  also  benefits  through  remittances  coming from  its  diaspora  in  the  Gulf  and  also  through  the  Gulf  investments  towards  development projects in Pakistan.
  • Pakistan is strategically important for Gulf States. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will greatly benefit the GCC countries by increasing GCC’s trade and export of oil through China and other countries in the region. SO, CPEC holds the best promise for GCC oil and gas exports to China and other countries. It also provides China a transit trade route to import oil from the Gulf region.

An Analysis of Pak-Gulf States Relations

  • Bilateral relations between Pakistan and the Gulf countries are likely to continue to have strong influence of personal relationship between the leaders.
  • Pakistan has maintained cordial ties with most Arab countries, but Saudi Arabia and the UAE are by far the most significant. Pakistan needs more  vigorous  efforts  to  solidify  the existing  bilateral  relations  with all Gulf
  • Pakistan remains a logical choice for the Gulf countries’ close defence relationship. With strong military ties, economic and  cultural  content  in  bilateral  relations  with Gulf states should also be increased  to  sustain  this relationship.
  • Since Pakistan is an agricultural country with a trained manpower, most of the Gulf countries are expected to maintain strong links in agricultural field for food security.
  • Increasing instability in the oil rich Middle East is likely to up the geopolitical ante. Unstable oil prices, a resistance to internal reform, wars in Syria and Yemen show that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states may seek to further strengthen relationship with Pakistan.
  • A high priority for Pakistan is to reduce current tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran. In this context, presently Pakistan is playing the role of mediator and called for resolution of difference through peaceful means in the larger interest of the Muslim unity.

Recommendations

  • The idea of Free Trade Agreement should be materialized. Through Pakistan-GCC FTA, Pakistan is keen on developing special economic zones for investors from all the GCC states especially KSA and UAE. Pakistan also hopes that Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) would invest in various sectors of Pakistan.
  • Bilateral relations  be  further strengthened  by  more  frequent  exchanges  at  functional  level  and  with increased interactions between private sectors and investors  from  the Gulf countries who may be given special concessions  to attract  them to invest in Pakistan.
  • Food security is an emerging socio-economic issue in all the GCC states which needs to be addressed to by having Free Trade Agreements especially with Pakistan. Through Pakistan-GCC FTA, Pakistan is keen on developing special economic zones for investors from all  the  GCC  states  especially  Saudi  Arabia  and    Pakistan’s agriculture  sector  has  the  potential  to  cater  to  the  food  requirements  of  the  GCC  region, which spends over $200 billion on farm imports.
  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his 2015 visit to UAE interacted with heads of state, business communities, and Indian expatriates. India’s  historical   dependence  on Gulf  oil,  to get it with a  growing  economy, will likely  spell increasing  engagement with the Middle east over  the  next   On trade and investment, India and the UAE have already agreed to set up a revised target of increasing trade by 60 percent in the next five years. Pakistan’s economic management in the GCC states also needs to be streamlined and expanded to boost economic, trade and commerce relations.
  • During Modi’s 2015 visit, India and the UAE agreed to cooperate in peaceful uses of nuclear energy including areas like safety, health, agriculture and science and technology. Pakistan has developed an extensive programme for civilian uses of nuclear energy and offers great opportunities. It, on the basis of its strong relations with Gulf States should offer its cooperation in civilian uses of nuclear energy to the Gulf states.
  • Joint Ventures  in  halal food  and  agriculture  may  be  established  in  order  to promote  the Pakistani  food items in the GCC countries and to export them to third  countries  after  processing/  packaging/    This would provide better market access for Pakistani products in countries with which Gulf States have Free or Preferential Trade Agreements.
  • Pakistan, in cooperation with China and Turkey, should use its diplomatic clout to engage Gulf States and in establishing a new arrangement in the region that protects the interests of all key players and removes the existing tensions between Gulf States and Iran.

Conclusion:

The foreign and security policies of any country keep on evolving with the changing geo-political environment. However, the thread which binds the Gulf States with Pakistan shall continue to exhibit itself. Generations after generations leadership in the Gulf states and in Pakistan have reaffirmed the deep rooted mutual trust. This trust shall remain the eternal bond which binds peoples of Gulf States and Pakistan.

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About the Author

Mr. Khurram Abbas is Assistant Research Officer (ARO) at Islamabad Policy Research Institute. He holds MPhil degree in International Relations from National Defence University (NDU), Islamabad. He is doing his PhD in Peace and Conflict Studies (PCS) from Centre for International Peace and Stability (CIPS), NUST, Islamabad and his thesis is “Role of Social Media in Radicalization Process: Analysis of Muslim World with Particular Reference to Pakistan". His area of interest includes, Perception Management, Role of Social Media, De-Radicalization Strategies, Counter Violent Extremism, Religious Extremism in South Asian region with particular emphasis on India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mr. Abbas regularly participates in National and International Conferences. He undertakes extensive research and regularly contributes in academic research journals and national/international dailies. Email: khurram306pcips@nipcons.nust.edu.pk

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