ISLAMABAD, (Dawn): Pakistan and Saudi Arabia agreed here on Tuesday to deepen their defence cooperation and support each other’s position on regional issues, including Syria and Afghanistan.
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal met President Mamnoon Hussain, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Adviser on Foreign Affairs and National Security Sartaj Aziz to garner Pakistan’s support on regional issues of concern to his country.
The first high-level visit to the country by a Saudi leader in six years was described by the government as a “historic event”, while the Saudis felt “satisfied and happy” over the outcome of the two-day trip.
Prince Faisal delivered a ‘special message’ to President Hussain from Saudi monarch Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz. He said the message was about “friendship, cooperation and a commitment to stand by each other under all circumstances”.
Speaking at a media conference after completing his engagements, the visiting minister said: “Saudi Arabia and Pakistan enjoy commonality of views and understanding on regional peace.”
His words were echoed by Adviser Aziz who said: “In the face of many challenges that confront the region, it is a matter of great satisfaction that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia stand together and share their views on peace and progress of the region.”
Prime Minister Sharif and President Hussain, in their meetings with the Saudi minister, called for “starting a new era” and “further deepening” the bilateral strategic partnership.
At the media conference, Prince Faisal spoke at length about the challenges to regional peace, confirming that the regional and international aspect had dominated the agenda of the visit.
On Syria, the visiting minister said his government was calling for a dialogue involving all stakeholders. He warned against giving a free hand to President Bashar Al Assad.
Mr Aziz said Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were on the same page in supporting a negotiated settlement of the three-year-old armed conflict in Syria.
The two countries agreed to closely coordinate their positions on peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
Prince Faisal said Afghanistan, which he said was coming to a “turning point”, was a central issue in his discussions with Pakistani leaders.
He asked Afghan factions to put aside their secondary disputes and unite for the sake of national interest.
The Saudi minister did not speak about Iran, but Mr Aziz, while replying to a question, said that Tehran’s engagement with the West would be beneficial for the region.
Curiously, Prince Faisal said elements out to disrupt the bilateral ties needed to be ignored. He did not specify whom he was referring to.
SECTARIANISM: Pakistani leaders in the meetings sought Saudi government’s support for reigning in sectarianism, which is posing the greatest challenge to the security in the country.
“We asked for Saudi help in dealing with sectarianism because it is affecting Muslim unity,” Mr Aziz told reporters.
Pakistani officials suspect that financing of most of the groups involved in sectarianism come from Saudi charities and clergy.
The issue was not mentioned at the press interaction. However, Prince Faisal said both countries needed to take collaborative steps to counter terrorism.
At another interaction with reporters, Mr Aziz said the two sides had agreed on increasing defence cooperation.
He did not share details of the new-look defence cooperation except for saying that Saudi Arabia could buy more arms from Pakistan.
Defence experts of the two countries will meet over the next couple of months to work out the details.
MUSHARRAF TRIAL: The Saudi minister’s visit had sparked rumours that he was visiting Pakistan to discuss the future of former military ruler Gen Parvez Musharraf, who is being tried for high treason.
Mr Faisal denied having discussed the trial with the Pakistani leaders and said that Saudi Arabia followed a policy of non-interference in internal matters of other countries.
The government had earlier denied that the visit was linked to the treason trial.The two countries agreed to convene a meeting of their Joint Economic Commission to discuss the various proposals for cooperation in trade, economy, investment and energy.
Saudi Arabia expressed particular interest in investments in the energy sector.
The two countries decided to revitalise their Joint Business Council for increasing the involvement of the private sector.
“We have agreed on institutional mechanisms for broadening the relationship,” Mr Aziz said.