Monday, April 4, 2011

The GCC – Pakistan Relationship

The GCC – Pakistan Relationship

Pakistan and GCC countries enjoy close bilateral relations. Although all GCC nations have fairly close relations with Pakistan, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) stands out as having the closest relations with Pakistan. Successive Saudi leaders have visited Pakistan from time to time. King Saud visited Pakistan in 1954, King Faisal in 1966 and 1974. King Khalid in 1976. Similarly, King Fahd as Crown Prince visited Pakistan in 1980 and King Abdullah went to Pakistan as Crown Prince in 1984, 1997, 1998 and 2003.

What are the Fundamentals of this relationship?
What keeps the bonds strong is the significant economic aid that Pakistan enjoys, dynasties in the Arabian Gulf enjoy protection from the Pakistani military and lastly religious affinity.

Economic Aid

The First and foremost problem with Pakistan is that, it is a country that survives on economic aid to sustain the functioning of the country. If it were not for this aid, Pakistan would be close to economic collapse as was seen in the balance of payments crisis in 2008[1]. The 2 major contributors to this are the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Other GCC countries also contribute to the coffers of the Pakistani government, but none to the tune of KSA. The United States since 9/11 have contributed close to $17 billion in aid to Pakistan according to statistics[2] recently published. In late 2009, the US congress agreed to a package of $7.5 billion in civil aid over 5 years as well as an additional $2billion in military aid agreed in October 2010[3]. There are no public figures to aid offered by KSA however; many have mentioned that contributions are significant – for example when oil prices reached their peak of $147, the Pakistani government had received a $300million grant from KSA in order to provide a budgetary cushion (in order to fill the fiscal gap) to the high oil prices.

In May 1998 when Pakistan was deciding whether to respond to India’s test of five nuclear weapons, the Saudis promised 50,000 barrels per day of free oil to help the Pakistanis cope with the economic sanctions that might be triggered by a counter test. The Saudi oil commitment was a key to then Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif’s decision to proceed with testing. It cushioned the subsequent U.S. and EU sanctions on Pakistan considerably[4]. The post-1998 economic support by KSA was maintained for 3 years with deferred payments which were written off at the end of the term. In early 2008, they again agreed to deferred payments.

As one can see, Pakistan's corrupt and security-phobic mindset squanders away its finances without investing in developmental activities and is hence highly reliant on economic aid from the US and the KSA in particular. Pakistan greatly relies on the support provided by the KSA in order to survive. Pakistan spends more money on military expenditure (estimated to be $5billion, of course Pakistan receives aid in addition to this which mostly is military[5]) than education (estimated to be just 2.2% of GDP – i.e. $3 billion).

Military Relations

One of the major components to the Pakistani – GCC relations is military cooperation. Due to the economic situation of Pakistan, Pakistan has relied on other nations footing the bill for defence requirements. Most of the Pakistani defence requirements are provided under the guise of military aid to combat terror. However, it is acknowledged that much of the military aid is actually being diverted to being used to fund weapons purchases in order to be used against India - Former president Pervez Musharraf admitted that US military aid given to Pakistan during his tenure was used to strengthen defences against India[6].

What about cooperation between Pakistan and the GCC?

Pakistan has provided military aid and expertise to the kingdom for decades. It began with help to the Royal Saudi Air Force to build and pilot its first jet fighters in the 1960s. Pakistani Air Force pilots flew RSAF Lightning’s that repulsed a South Yemeni incursion into the kingdom’s southern border in 1969. In the 1970s and 1980s up to 15,000 Pakistani troops were stationed in the kingdom[7].

As recently as late 2009/early 2010, during the Saudi conflict with the Houthi rebels, Pakistani forces had been deployed. This author understands that Pakistani Air Force pilots were operating missions in support of Saudi forces fighting the Houthi rebels. Some unverified sources have suggested that the Pakistani Air Force were paid per mission undertaken in the conflict.

During the visit of Assistant Defence Minister of KSA Prince Khaled bin Sultan to Pakistan in 2004, a tighter military cooperation was made between the 2 countries[8]. For the first time a discreet visit to Kahuta was also made. Kahuta is home to Khan Research Laboratories which houses Pakistani nuclear arms facilities.

Here are some highlights of the defence relations between the 2 countries:
-         Increase in training of the number of Saudi nuclear physicists at KRL, Kahuta[9]
-         Support Pakistani defence industry by purchasing Al Khalid tanks and offering sub-contractor work for the $7billion Saudi MIKSA border protection program to Pakistani government contractors.
-         Stationing of a 1000 pakistani soldiers in KSA, with the option to increase to 80,000 in the event of a major conflict.
-         A joint military Command in Saudi Arabia with pre-positioned arms dumps.
-         Possible integration with the Peninsula Shield in Hafr Al Bateen along with allied states such as Egypt.
-         Saudi pilots will travel to Rawalpindi for training along with Pakistani Air Force pilots.
-         There are persistant rumours that Pakistan acted as a conduit for nuclear capable missiles to Saudi Arabia.

Any close watchers of the region can see that Pakistan co-ordinates military purchases closely with the GCC. It is also a well known fact that Pakistani defence purchases are partly paid for by the KSA. Purchase of French Agosta submarines as well as US F-16D’s were some of the examples. This is done so that the GCC can call upon the services of the Pakistani armed forces when needed.

The author understands that Riyadh relies on Pakistani personnel to fill in gaps in personnel in the Saudi military – mainly the Air Force which flies similar aircraft to the Pakistani Air Force. The agreement is that in exchange for bankrolling Pakistani purchases of defence equipment, in return Pakistan provides some of its more experienced pilots/naval officers to be seconded to the Saudi military.

The Downsides to relations with Pakistan

It is apparent today that most major terror plots involve Pakistan in some way or form – usually training and other support. Muscat was made the target of attacks in 2007. Lashkar sympathisers in Oman had plans of targeting prominent landmarks in Muscat, among them a British Broadcasting Corporation office, the Golden Tulip Hotel, and a spa in the upmarket Nizwa area. No final operational plans were made, but Oman authorities found enough evidence to sentence suspects to life in prison.

For further info on the planned attacks in Oman and how Omani and Indian investigators worked together on the Mumbai Attacks please read:

Members of the AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) are also known to be very active in the Af-Pak region and evidence suggests that these individuals receive support from the Pakistani ISI (Inter Services Intelligence). It is also noteworthy to remember that the head of the Al Qaeda’s military wing Brigade 313 is Ilyas Kashmiri – A former member of the Pakistani Army’s Special Services Group (SSG). A well known fact is that the Pakistani army is known to use the services of ex-servicemen for supporting jihadi/terror activities targeting India and ISAF troops (of which Bahrain and the UAE militaries also have a presence) in Afghanistan[10].

It is also not a coincidence that the Saudi ministry of interior recently released names of 47 most wanted terrorists, of which the majority (27) were located in the Af-Pak region. Majority of these leaders are likely to be living under protection of Taliban and their allies such as the Haqqani network. Many of these groups are armed and trained by the Pakistani military. It is also well acknowledged that the Taliban and its leadership are under the control of the ISI[11]. A question GCC security officials need to ask themselves is, is it worth supporting a nation that continues to harbor/support individuals that are trying to topple their governments?

The GCC officials should also be reminded that one of the gravest threats they face today – the Iranian nuclear threat - was caused directly by Pakistan. Evidence has emerged that the “father of the Pakistani bomb” Abdul Qadeer Khan had sold equipment/know how in his nuclear black market to Iran[12]. There are also indications that AQ Khan was aided and abetted by Senior Pakistani military and intelligence officials. In fact AQ Khan himself claimed that Musharraf was aware of the nuclear black market trade and approved deals[13].

It’s no secret that GCC officials are worried about the threat emanating from Iran as we have all read in the wikileaks episode. Again, the question needs to be asked, Is this the partner that GCC wishes to rely upon for its security?

Why is this relevant today?

Many analysts have completely missed the significance of recent high level visits from Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to Pakistan. Prince Bandar (A royal emissary for HM King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia) had visited senior leaders in Pakistan including the Pakistani Army Chief General Ashfaq Kiyani. Sources have confirmed that Prince Bandar is said to have requested Pakistani troops to be deployed if the internal unrest continues in Yemen, Bahrain and the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.
The Foreign Minister of Bahrain HRH Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa also paid a visit to Islamabad shortly after Prince Bandar had departed for New Delhi [14]. We expect similar discussions on security coordination to have taken place.


Pakistan army is being utilized as cannon fodder or mercenaries for the Gulf Kingdoms, in return Pakistan gains significant economic support that it requires for its very survival. How long will this relationship continue and also how reliable is this support if Pakistan continues to harbour or indirectly/directly support the AQAP as well as a Nuclear Iran? Is it time for the GCC to start imposing conditions on Pakistan for its continued aid?  

I leave you with a quote from the book (My Life with the Taliban) of Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, Taliban regimes Ambassador to Pakistan:

Pakistan, which plays a key role in Asia, is so famous for treachery that it is said they can get milk from a bull. They have two tongues in one mouth, and two faces on one head so they can speak everybody’s language; they use everybody, deceive everybody. They deceive the Arabs under the guise of Islamic nuclear power, they milk America and Europe in the alliance against terrorism, and they have been deceiving Pakistani and other Muslims around the world in the name of the Kashmiri jihad.”

[1] Pakistan said Saturday it had agreed to borrow $7.6 billion from the International Monetary Fund
[8] Data Source
[9] Data Source
[10] Taliban leader killed by SAS was a Pakistani Army officer


  1. Sir ,

    Current crisis in Middle east has roots in Shia - Sunni differences. As Pakistan has very large number of Shia population there seems no effect of this on relation between Pakistan and Saudi Arab.

    How Do you see progress in future? if current crises expands it will affect Pakistani esablishments commitments towards Saudis.

  2. Naturally there will be instability in pakistan. Pakistan has already seen a flare up in sectarian related issues specifically related to KSA vs Iran.

    It is in Pakistan's interests to maintain close relations with KSA and also avert a collission between GCC and Iran.