Pakistan and Saudi Arabia started their cooperation and friendly collaboration soon after the inception of Pakistan. In 1951, both states signed a Treaty of Friendship. This was the first step that had been taken because of the Islamic religion, which is common among these two nations. This relationship was further boosted by the visit of King Saud bin Abdul Aziz in 1954. On his visit, he was highly impressed to see the emotions of Pakistanis toward Saudi Arabia. A refugee town near Karachi was named Saud Abad, expressing Pakistanis’ affection and respect for Saudi Arabia’s Shah.
Pakistan signed the Baghdad Pact in 1954, which annoyed the Muslim world. But the Saudi government felt the pulse. King Saud wrote a letter to Ghulam Muhammad, the Governor-General of Pakistan, in which he stated that,
“We will be happy if Pakistan is strong, no doubt.” “Pakistan’s strength is our strength, and if the Jews attack the Holy Land, then Pakistan will be in front of the defenders of the Haram.”
Saudi Arabia has a special interest in Pakistan’s internal and external affairs. In 1954, Saudi Arabia offered its services for the establishment of diplomatic relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. During crises in Egypt and Yemen in the early 1960s, Saudi Arabia asked Pakistan for assistance in strengthening its defenses. Moreover, former President Ayub Khan visited Saudi Arabia, which further strengthened relations between the two countries. When Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom and France over the Suez Canal dispute in 1964, Pakistan was the one who looked after Saudi interests in the United Kingdom and France. In November 1965, Shah Faisal became the King of Saudi Arabia. The relations between the two countries were further strengthened.
Saudi Arabia stood firm with Pakistan during the war of 1965 and even supported Pakistan morally and materially against India. Two years later, during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Pakistan was able to repay the favor of its Arab supporters and to show its solidarity with Saudi Arabia. Saudi King Faisal bin Abdul Aziz visited Pakistan in April 1966. During his visit, he assured Pakistan of his support, and a joint statement was issued on the occasion calling for the implementation of the people of Jammu and Kashmir’s right to self-determination in accordance with United Nations resolutions. Because of the spiritual attachment during the wars of 1965 and 1971, Saudi Arabia provided political and material support to Pakistan at all times of distress.
KSA has supported Pakistan on the Kashmir cause until today. Saudi Arabia showed sympathy with Pakistan after the 1971 war, and in doing so, they didn’t even recognize the new state of Bangladesh for quite a long time. Saudi Arabia even expressed deep sorrow over this partition during the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers at Jeddah. This reaction to the debacle in Dhaka was only due to religious affiliations.
A visit paid by the then King of Saudi Arabia, Khalid bin Abdul Aziz, in 1976 strengthened and promoted bilateral relations between these two nation-states, and the foundation of Shah Faisal Mosque was also laid during the same visit; even its construction and completion were financed by them.
When General Zia ul Haq came to power, both countries strengthened their military ties and encouraged defense sector collaboration. Saudia even supported the Islamization movement in Pakistan led by General Zia. During President Zia’s tenure, both leaders held a number of conferences on international and strategic issues, as well as on further strengthening and promoting bilateral ties.
The major Pakistani city of Layllpur was also renamed Faislabad in honor of King Faisal in 1977. Saudi Arabia continues to be a popular immigration destination for Pakistanis, with an estimated 900,000 to 1 million residents. Saudi Arabia was a major supporter of the “Islamisati Zia-ul-Haqon” program of the military ruler Gen. in the 1970s. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia both signed an important pact on defense cooperation in 1982. During the Cold War, fifteen thousand Pakistani troops were posted to and stationed in Saudi Arabia for various assignments. Between 1982 and 1987, Pakistan stationed approximately 20,000 servicemen in Saudi Arabia to defend Islamic holy sites. There are reportedly approximately 70,000 Pakistani servicemen serving in the military.
Saudi Arabia has also provided extensive religious and educational aid to Pakistan, being a major contributor to the construction of mosques and madrassas (religious schools) across Pakistan. Since 1980, the number of religious schools has increased from 800 to 27,00 in 1997, and all are funded by Saudi Arabia. The schools serve as nurseries for teenagers and younger children (giving religious and moral education) from Pakistan, Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, Yemen, etc. During the 1990–1991 Persian Gulf War, Pakistan sent troops to protect the Islamic holy sites in Saudi Arabia, but strains developed when some Pakistani politicians and Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, then-chief of staff of the Pakistani army, openly expressed support for Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq and its invasion of Kuwait. Along with the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were the only states to recognize Taliban rule in Afghanistan. During the tenures of late Benazir Bhutto and Mia Nawaz Sharif, the government’s chief visited Saudi Arabia on a regular basis and exchanged views with the country’s king and other leaders.
Saudi Arabia contributed to Pakistan’s international support. When India jeopardized Pakistan’s security by conducting five nuclear tests on May 11th and 13th, 1998, Pakistan responded with six nuclear devices and became the world’s seventh nuclear power on May 28th and 30th.The Western world condemns this act, but Saudi Arabia was the only country to back Pakistan’s audacious decision to conduct nuclear tests in weapon testing laboratories—111 in the sign of Chagach. Saudi Arabia promised Pakistan to supply 50,000 barrels per day of free oil to help Pakistan cope with likely economic sanctions in the aftermath.
On October 12, 1999, the military under General Pervez Musharraf took over in Pakistan, and a year later, in December 2000, it exiled Nawaz Sharif to Saudi Arabia. Pervez Musharraf’s wife, Regina, also maintains a very good relationship with Saudi Arabia’s government. Pervez Musharraf visited Saudi Arabia on official business. Pakistan’s democratically elected government was installed following the October elections. In November 2002, Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali paid a three-day state visit to Saudi Arabia from December 30, 2002, to January 3, 2003. During his visits, he exchanged views on matters of mutual interest with Saudi King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz, Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, and other Saudi leaders. During Jamali’s visits, Saudi Arabia reached an agreement with Pakistan to supply oil worth $1.3 billion with a deferred payment facility to help it build its oil reserves.
The Saudi friendly gesture helped boost Pakistan’s economy because in the fiscal year 2002-2003, Islamabad’s oil imports rose to $3.5 billion. At present, the Pak-Saudi relationship is exemplary and is laid on a strong foundation of brotherhood. Often, these are gifts with symbolic religious values. In 2014, Saudi Arabia gave Pakistan 200 tons of dates as a gesture of friendship. On April 2, 2014, Pakistan reported that Pakistan would send a JF-17 Thunder jet to Saudi Arabia after the kingdom gave $1.5 billion to Pakistan in early 2014.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are enhancing their economic relationships and offering each other significant investment opportunities. According to Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, Pakistan’s Minister of Investment and Privatization,
“Pakistan is developing the close political ties it has enjoyed with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia for many years into deeper economic relationships” (2003).
In September 2004, Prime Minister Shoukat Aziz visited Saudi Arabia. On his return from Saudi Arabia, he said,
“Pakistan and Saudi Arabia would widen interaction on Islamic causes, cooperate in fighting extremism, and promote trade and investment.” forces wider Pak-Saudi interaction in the service of Islamic causes. “In fighting extremism and promoting trade and investment.”
According to Bruno Tertrais, a researcher for the EU Non-Proliferation Consortium, during informal discussions held in 2005, a former Pakistan National Command Authority official said that deploying Pakistani nuclear warheads in Saudi Arabia would be “worse than the Cuban missile crisis.” Tertrais concludes that there is no hard evidence in the public domain of any nuclear cooperation between the two countries. Pakistan rejected a request from Saudi Arabia to contribute troops to the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen. In 2006, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was awarded the Nishan-e-Pakistan, the highest civilian decoration of Pakistan. As Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, His Majesty King Abdullah paid a historic visit to Pakistan in 2006 after ascending to the throne. Agreements signed on the occasion pertained to:
- Educational cooperation
- Scientific cooperation
- Vocational cooperation
- Consultation between the foreign ministries
- Avoidance of Double Taxation
All the agreements have been ratified by the two countries. Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal participated in seven countries’ Foreign Ministers’ conference in Islamabad in February 2007. Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah al Ammar, Minister of Religious Affairs, paid a visit to Pakistan in February 2007.Imam Ka’ba Abdur Rehman Al Sudais visited Pakistan in 2007. Saudi Arabia has always been keenly interested in the social and economic development of Pakistan, and it provided financial assistance during the 2005 earthquake and the 2010 and 2011 floods. In the Tokyo Donors Conference, it also pledged $700 million for Pakistan. The leaders of both countries decided to strengthen bilateral military cooperation and arrange joint military exercises on a regular basis. The Pakistan Army and Saudi Land Forces Joint Exercises Al Samsaam series have been conducted on a biennial basis since 2004.
Series of Joint Military Exercises Details
- Pakistan, Al-Samsaam-I, 2004
- Pakistan, Al-Samsaam-II, 2006.
- Al-Samsaam-III, Saudi Arabia, 2009.
- Pakistan, Al-Samsaam-IV, 2011.
Former Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Kayani, described Saudi Arabia as “the most important country for Pakistan” in 2011, the year when Osama bin Laden’s killing and NATO air strikes on the Salala border post in the Pakistani tribal areas had strained Pakistan’s relations with the U.S. Saudi Arabia has extradited several militants from Pakistan-based groups such as Lashkar-e Taiba, including Sayed Zabiuddin Ansari in 2012. Saudi distrust of the political leadership of the ruling party increased further when Zardari signed a gas pipeline deal with Iran on January 31st, 2013. However, military and defense links between the two countries remained strong during this period. The government led by Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, which came to power in 2013, regained enthusiasm for diplomatic and strategic ties with Saudi Arabia. Pakistani leaders, including government ministers, have welcomed the deal and expressed a strong willingness to enhance bilateral trade and economic cooperation with Iran, including the implementation of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, an agreement for which was signed by the two countries in 2013. As Crown Prince, King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz visited Pakistan in 2014. It was an extraordinary visit among the lurking crises over the Yemen conflict. Pakistan assured Saudi Arabia of its guaranteed support in any aggression against the Kingdom, particularly the Holy Mosques. Eventually, the PML-N government took two steps. Firstly, it convened a conference of Pakistani diplomats in the Middle East and the Gulf in Islamabad on May 6, 2014.
In 2015, a misgiving developed when Islamabad decided not to take the side of any party in the Yemen conflict. Later, after having understood Pakistan’s principled stance, the cooperative mechanism of both countries got further impetus without any ill will. Besides being neutral in the inter-state affairs of Muslim states, active military operations were going on to combat the terrorists all over the country. The Pakistan Army had started a decisive military campaign, “Operation Zarb-e-Azb,” in the FATA area, North Waziristan Agency, where terrorists had their support mechanisms.
In 2016, Pakistan Ordnance Factory (POF) secured an export order worth US$81 million to Saudi Arabia. Operation North Thunder was a Saudi-led military exercise conducted in March 2016. Despite its military engagements against terrorism, a contingent of Pakistani armed forces participated in this military exercise in the north of Saudi Arabia. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi visited the Kingdom in August 2017 and held bilateral discussions with the Crown Prince.
In February 2018, Pakistan announced that it would be sending troops to Saudi Arabia on a “training and advisory mission.” During Operation Desert Storm, a division-sized Pakistani force was deputed to protect the Holy Mosques and the Kingdom against any foreign invasion. Over 1000 soldiers and officers were sent to various military institutions in the kingdom in 2018 as training staff. In the same year, Pakistan trained 10,000 Saudi military personnel in different aspects of military training. There has been regular cooperation between the two militaries. In February 2019, Saudi Arabia’s SAUDI ARAMCO and SABIC announced plans to set up a US$10 billion oil refinery and petrochemical industry in Pakistan’s deep-water port of Gwadar, Baluchistan. The Saudi Crown Prince, Muhammad bin Salman, visited Pakistan in February 2019 to sign an agreement to establish a $10 billion refinery and petrochemical complex in Gwadar. A Saudi delegation headed by Major General Sulaiman Al Yahya, Director General Immigration, visited Pakistan in April 2019 in connection with the “Road to Makkah” project. This facilitation was fully operationalized in 2019 and greatly facilitated Pakistani pilgrims during Hajj. There have been regular high-level political engagements through the visits of heads of state and senior government officials. Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman was awarded Nishan, Pakistan, on February 18, 2019.Prime Minister Imran Khan, his cabinet members, the army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and several other high-profile officials and dignitaries from both countries were also present on the occasion.
Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman was accompanied to the Presidency by Prime Minister Khan in a traditional horse-drawn carriage that was surrounded by a contingent of the President’s bodyguards. President Arif Alvi conferred Nishan-e-Pakistan, the country’s top civil award, on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Prime Minister Imran Khan has visited Saudi Arabia four times since assuming office. His visit in May 2021 was intended to re-establish the bilateral relationship after some misunderstandings on certain issues. Later, in July 2021, the Saudi Foreign Minister paid a two-day official visit to Pakistan. He assured complete Saudi support for Pakistan’s stance over the long-standing Kashmir conflict. (PID) Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have agreed to strengthen cooperation in the investment, industrial, and mining sectors. This was stated in a joint declaration at the conclusion of the three-day official visit of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to Saudi Arabia. Relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have been strained in recent years. Mr. Sharif embarked on his first foreign trip to the Gulf region, visiting Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on April 27, 2022. During the new PM’s trip to Riyadh, he sought to secure greater economic cooperation with and financial backing from the Saudi government. According to media reports, Shehbaz requested an additional $3.2 billion in foreign aid. — Furthermore, the KSA backed Pakistan when former Prime Minister Imran Khan insisted on a strong response from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), over which Saudi Arabia holds significant influence.