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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.