The Saudi factor
“We feel Saudi Arabia, of course, has a long and close relationship with Pakistan. But that makes Saudi Arabia even a more of a valuable interlocutor for when we tell them about our experience, Saudi Arabia listens as somebody who is not in any way an enemy of Pakistan but a friend of Pakistan, therefore will listen with sympathy and concern to a matter of this nature.”
Can this statement of Shashi Tharoor during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Saudi Arabia be interpreted as invitation for third party intervention by Riyadh in Indo-Pak affairs? Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary says the word “interlocutor” lends itself to two meaning: 1) a person taking part in a conversation with you and 2) a person or an organization that talks to another person or organization on behalf of somebody else.
Their proclivity for sensation made the media deduce the Minister’s allusion was to a Saudi interface between New Delhi and Islamabad. The inference seemed driven more by past controversies over Tharoor’s pithy tweets than by the manner in which he arranged his remarks. The media got it wrong because New Delhi hasn’t ever used the word interlocutor to dilate against third party role in India-Pakistan matters since the 1972 Shimla Pact grounded in bilateralism. The coinage was about rejecting third party “mediation.”
Besides China, Saudi Arabia has tremendous clout with Pak Army and civilian leadership. Over the years, it bailed Islamabad out of countless economic and political crises through generous financial assistance and supply of petroleum crude. It played a key role in installation of Mujahideen/Taliban regimes (post Soviet withdrawal) in Kabul and brokered deals with General Pervez Musharraf for the exile and subsequent return to Pakistan of Nawaz Sharif after the military coup that saw him ousted. It’s ample clear from the statement the media tore out of context that Tharoor called Riyadh a “valuable interlocutor” for its ability to persuade rather than mediate with Pak policy makers forever under obligation of the oil-rich kingdom. This perception was built as much in the PM’s remarks to reporters after the visit: “I know Saudi Arabia has close relations with Pakistan. I did discuss Indo-Pak relations with His Majesty on a one-to-one basis. I explained to him the role that terrorism, aided, abetted and inspired by Pakistan is playing in our country. And I did not ask for him to do anything other than to use his good offices to persuade Pakistan to desist from this path.”
So, it’ll be unfair to clobber Tharoor for what he said. But he needs to be chided for speaking out of turn at a bilateral Summit that happened after a gap of 28 years. On similar count, some bit of criticism must come in the share of superannuated foreign policy experts who reject out of hand the possibility of Saudi Arabia nudging Pakistan to act against terrorists of all hue. Their refrain: Riyadh’s a supporter of Islamabad and cannot be expected to play an unbiased role.
From within their time warps, these learned men ignored or failed to notice the symbolism and the substance of the India-Saudi extradition treaty signed from the Indian side by Ghulam Nabi Azad, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
I’d like to ask whether or not that marks a change in Riyadh’s perception? Or for that matter its painstaking efforts to distance from the Taliban whose regime some years ago in Afghanistan had its early recognition along with Pakistan’s.