Pakistan’s PM Khan clashes with Saudi Arabia’s ally

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Imran Khan rejects Pakistan-Saudi relations sown over Kashmir, claiming that links are ‘very strong’ between the two countries.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has played down differences with Saudi Arabia’s long-time ally after his army chief visited Riyadh in a bid to ease a policy dispute over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

The dispute brought about by Pakistani demands that Saudi Arabia takes a firmer line against India for what Pakistan claims is its abuses of human rights in Indian-administered Kashmir, which has challenged the financial support of Riyadh for Islamabad.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia had no differences, Khan said in a late Tuesday interview, backing off criticism on Kashmir from his foreign minister this month who said Saudi Arabia was indifferent.

“The reports that soured our relations with Saudi Arabia are totally false,” Khan said in an interview with the television channel Dunya News.

Army chief visits Riyadh

Pakistan’s chief of the army traveled Monday to Saudi Arabia for a one-day visit that was “primarily oriented to military affairs,” the army said.

But top military and government officials said the visit was aimed at calming the simmering standoff that could badly hurt cash-strapped Pakistan’s foreign reserves.

Saudi Arabia gave Pakistan a $3bn loan and $3.2bn oil credit facility to help its balance of payments crisis in late 2018.

Pakistan’s demands for Saudi Arabia to support it against India over Kashmir led to Saudi Arabia forcing Pakistan to pay back $1bn early, military and finance ministry officials have told the Reuters news agency.

Saudi Arabia is also demanding repayment of another $1bn of the loan and has not responded to Pakistani requests to extend the oil facility, they said.

Saudi anger

The Saudi Government did not comment on this topic.

The Saudi-led Islamic Cooperation Organization (OIC) only held low-level meetings on Kashmir, to the disappointment of those who wished to see a stronger stance.

“There is a view on the Kashmir issue that OIC should have taken a step forward,” Khan said.

“Saudi has its own foreign policy. It’s not something we should say if we want Saudi to do just that,” he said.

“If you can not convene it, then I would be obliged to ask Prime Minister Imran Khan to call a conference of Islamic countries ready to stand with us on the Kashmir issue and to help the oppressed Kashmiris.”

Qureshi’s remarks rekindled anger from Riyadh, told Reuters earlier by one of the Pakistani military officials and a government adviser. Analysts say Saudi Arabia’s support for Pakistan over Kashmir does not want to risk its business interests in India. Pakistan and India both claim to be in complete control of the Muslim-majority Kashmir region but rule it in part.

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