Pakistani army chief arrives in Saudi Arabia amid strained ties

Pakistan’s army chief has arrived in Saudi Arabia amid a disagreement between the two countries that has threatened Riyadh’s financial lifeline to Islamabad.

General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s visit on Monday was “primarily military-affairs oriented”, Pakistan’s army spokesman said.

The military declined to comment to Al Jazeera on the agenda for the visit.

But Pakistani military and government officials told Reuters news agency that Bajwa would use his good offices to try to calm the situation, which could badly hurt Pakistan’s central bank foreign reserves if not reversed.

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

Pakistan has long pressed the Saudi-led Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to convene a high-level meeting to highlight India’s alleged human rights violations in the disputed Kashmir region.

But the OIC has only held low-level meetings so far.

“If you cannot convene it, then I’ll be compelled to ask Prime Minister Imran Khan to call a meeting of the Islamic countries that are ready to stand with us on the issue of Kashmir and support the oppressed Kashmiris,” Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told local media in recent weeks.

Last year, Islamabad had pulled out of a Muslim nations forum at the last minute upon the insistence of Riyadh, which saw the gathering as an attempt to challenge its leadership of the OIC.

Qureshi’s remarks revived Riyadh’s anger, one of the Pakistani military officials and a government adviser said.

Saudi Arabia has forced Pakistan to pay back $1bn prematurely and is demanding another $1bn of the loan.

Riyadh has also not responded to Pakistani requests to extend the oil facility, military and finance ministry officials have told Reuters.

The head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), General Faiz Hameed, was accompanying Bajwa, a Pakistani military source said.

Pakistanis account for more than a quarter of the 10 million expatriates working in Saudi Arabia.

Prime Minister Khan is also seeking to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran, after attacks on Gulf oil interests that Washington blamed on Tehran, though he said recently that was progressing slowly.

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