India ought to do not forget that Pakistan-Saudi Arabia relations will stay particular due, not least, to bonds of all Muslims with The Holy Land.
They would even be strategic sufficient, no matter whether or not the ambassador is a army man or a profession civilian appointee., notes Rana Banerji, who headed the Pakistan desk on the Research and Analysis Wing, India’s exterior intelligence company.
IMAGE: Lieutenant General Bilal Akbar (retd), Pakistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Photograph: Kind courtesy Sadaqat65/Wikemedia
As Pakistan seeks to rebuild ties with Saudi Arabia, which have been frayed in latest months over the oil loans reimbursement schedule and perceived lukewarm help on the Kashmir difficulty in fora just like the Organisation of Islamic Conference, Lieutenant General Bilal Akbar (retd)’s appointment as Pakistan’s new ambassador in Riyadh is being sought to be projected as an try to restore age-old shut ties, together with a trusted defence relationship.
If potential, the Pakistani media would have us consider, this may increasingly assist additionally to erode or reverse Saudi Arabia’s growing heat relations with India.
In August final yr, the Pakistan-Saudi Arabia spat got here to a boil when Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi known as on the OIC to do extra to resolve the Kashmir dispute.
The assertion was seen as an unprecedented low in relations.
In its aftermath Pakistan’s military chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, rushed to Riyadh later that month, to quell tensions.
Though prior to now, the Pakistan military deployed infantry brigades in Saudi Arabia, presently solely a small contingent of about 2,000 army personnel could also be positioned there on quick time period safety and coaching jobs.
Though the Saudis had requested for a bigger task of troops, for potential deployment within the struggle in Yemen, this was not thought-about politically fascinating in Pakistan, for worry of annoying Iran.
The Saudis additionally look warily on Pakistan’s cementing of ties with Turkey.
The Pakistan ambassadorship to Saudi Arabia has all the time been considered a prestigious task, each for profession diplomats of the Pakistan international service in addition to for well-networked defence companies personnel, after retirement.
Whenever defence companies personnel have been appointed to this plum submit, the approval of Pakistan’s military chief has been a sine qua non, given the Pakistan army’s disproportionate clout over the international coverage institution throughout at the least, roughly half of its 74-year historical past.
The Imran Khan authorities had appointed a excessive profile profession diplomat, Raja Ali Ejaz to this submit in January 2019.
Ejaz was consul normal in New York, had served as director, United Nations and on the India desk on the Pakistan international servce headquarters in addition to at Pakistan’s excessive fee in London.
He had taken over from Vice Admiral Khan Hasham bin Siddique (retd).
Though Pakistan military generals have been appointed ambassadors to Saudi Arabia prior to now, the final normal to function Pakistan’s ambassador in Riyadh was Lieutenant General Asad Durrani (retd) (September 2000-September 2002), recently a lot within the information for his fictionalised tome, Honour Among Spies.
For Pakistan’s defence companies, the dominion of Saudi Arabia task seems to have been earmarked as a slot for the Pakistan navy.
Earlier, former Pakistan naval chiefs, Admiral Shahid Karimullah (retd) and Admiral Abdul Aziz Mirza (retd) served as Pakistan’s ambassadors to the dominion.
This appeared to be a reciprocal association because the Saudi ambassador to Pakistan presently is Saudi Rear Admiral Nawaf bin Saeed Al Malhi, lengthy serving because the Saudi naval attache in Islamabad, now elevated as ambassador.
This time, the Pakistan navy’s slice in diplomatic posts seems to have been diverted to accommodate ieutenant General Bilal Akbar.
IMAGE: Pakistan Prime Minister with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Riyadh, October 15, 2019. Photograph: Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Reuters
Lieutenant General Akbar would have been the senior-most officer of his cohort, well-placed and eligible to succeed General Bajwa as military chief in November 2019 (assuming Lieutenant General Sarfraz Sattar had been sidelined already), had General Bajwa not been given an extension by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
An artillery officer commissioned within the 73rd Pakistan army academy course in Kakul, 1976, General Akbar had been earmarked for the army excessive street way back. He served as GoC, 11 Division Lahore and accomplished his Quetta workers school task with credit score.
He additionally did a stint within the Turkish workers school in Istanbul.
In reality, when General Bajwa turned military chief in 2016, entering into General Raheel Sharif’s sneakers, he promoted General Bilal Akbar, then director normal, Pak Rangers, Karachi, and picked him to be his chief of normal workers .
As a perceived favorite, General Akbar then went on to maintain the celebrated X Corps Command in Rawalpindi, albeit just for a yr (Septembet 2018-September 2019).
The Bajwa extension and the Pakistan supreme courtroom imbroglio, with then chief justice Asif Khosa commenting caustically on the proclivity of Pakistan’s generals to give themselves extensions of tenure, noticed a short lived falling out of Generals Bajwa and Akbar.
General Akbar was within the doghouse for some time as he was perceived to be sympathising with the group of disgruntled lieutenant generals led by Lieutenant General Sarfaraz Sattar.
He was shafted to a relatively much less essential task because the chairman, Pakistan ordnance factories, Wah in November 2019.
However, a mending of fences seems to have taken place subsequently.
General Bajwa visited the Pakistan ordnance factories, Wah, with a lot fanfare on November 27, 2020, simply earlier than General Akbar’s retirement on December 10, 2020.
IMAGE: Pakistan’s military chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Photograph: Akhtar Soomro/Reuters
The sop to General Akbar now could contain tackling troublesome political duties, on behalf of General Bajwa particularly, to be carried out with some discretion.
General Bajwa’s predecessor, General Raheel Sharif (retd) presently holds the profitable sinecure of commander-in-cchief of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, a 39-nation alliance of Muslim international locations headquartered in Riyadh.
General Raheel Sharif shuttles between Riyadh and his house in Lahore.
The Pakistan military management and even the Pakistan international workplace was not very happy with the way by which General Raheel Sharif accepted this task, with out ready for required defence ministry clearances or authorities approval.
This has rankled with General Bajwa and his senior coterie of lieutenant generals.
After General Raheel Sharif’s retirement from the Pakistan military, General Bajwa shortly undid General Raheel’s previous few appointments, together with that of Lieutenant General Sarfraz Sattar as Corps Commander, II Corps, Multan.
In Riyadh, General Akbar would have to keep watch over the persevering with bonhomie between the Saudi royal household and General Raheel Sharif.
Reports are additionally surfacing that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif could take into account shifting to Saudi Arabia if the Pakistan authorities’s efforts to search his deportation from the United Kingdom, the place he’s positioned presently, ostensibly for additional medical remedy, collect momentum.
His shut relations with the Saudi monarchy, the place he had remained in exile after General Musharraf’s banishment in December, 2000 are well-known.
In September final yr, Nawaz Sharif made fairly robust anti-army statements, which supplied a fillip to the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s agitation in Pakistan.
He adopted it up later with private criticism of General Bajwa and the director normal, Inter Services Intelligence, Lieutenant General Faiz Hamid.
On this entrance too, General Akbar could have to step past mundane diplomatic protocol, to stay clued up on what could also be brewing.
In the last word evaluation, India ought to do not forget that Pakistan-Saudi Arabia relations will stay particular due, not least, to bonds of all Muslims with The Holy Land.
They would even be strategic sufficient, no matter whether or not the ambassador is a army man or a profession civilian appointee.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com