Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud met on Monday with Pakistan’s army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa in Riyadh to discuss a number of issues including that of military cooperation and regional stability.
According to the Saudi Press Agency, they reviewed bilateral relations, especially on the military and defense side, and sought to enhance joint cooperation to maintain security and stability, in addition to issues of common concern.
“Met today with my brother, H.E. General Qamar Bajwa, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff. We discussed bilateral relations, military cooperation, and our common vision for preserving regional security,” Prince Khalid said in a tweet following the meeting.
This comes during a time of strained relations between the two longtime allies and although the official line was that the visit was “pre-planned,” many reports indicate it was an attempt to ease Riyadh’s displeasure over rare criticism from Islamabad of the Kingdom’s lukewarm reaction to the situation in disputed Jammu and Kashmir.
Earlier this month, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi asked the Jeddah-based Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to convene a meeting over the issue.
However, Saudi has failed to do so, which prompted a harsh response from Islamabad.
Qureshi warned that if the OIC failed to assist, Pakistan would call its own meeting of Muslim countries “which want to support us on the Kashmir issue.”
According to him, Pakistan had skipped a summit in Malaysia last year with a “heavy heart” because of Saudi Arabia’s reservations.
Very few details have however been released over Bajwa’s visit to the Kingdom but diplomatic sources said the general was accompanied by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed and that the two are expected to hold high-level meetings.
In one statement on Monday, the Pakistani Army said Bajwa had met with Al-Rowaily and Lt. Gen. Fahad bin Turki Al Saud, Commander Joint Forces, to discuss “military to military ties, including training exchanges.”
Speaking to journalists ahead of Bajwa’s departure on Monday, Major General Babar Iftikhar, the Pakistani army’s spokesman, said: “There is no need to read too much into it. Thank God, everything is fine,”
Iftikhar stated Pakistan and its people “are proud of their relations” with Saudi Arabia, and that there was no need to raise any question about them.
“These relations are historic, very important, excellent and will remain excellent. There should be no doubt of this. Nobody can doubt the centrality of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the Islamic world,” Iftikhar stressed.
But ties have been strained with Saudi Arabia which appears to have led to Pakistan turning to China last month to borrow $1 billion to repay part of a $3 billion loan from Saudi Arabia – which was used to prop up Islamabad’s depleting foreign reserves, apart from a $3 billion oil credit facility.
Pakistan’s Finance Ministry last week confirmed that Riyadh was reviewing Islamabad’s request for an extension of the oil credit facility, which ended in July.
NATO to provide provisional funding to help run Kabul airport
NATO has not yet decided on who would run the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul once foreign troops have withdrawn, the organization’s secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said Monday night.
Stoltenberg said however that Turkey would play a “key role” in running the airport and that NATO is committed to providing transitional funding for the key facility.
This comes after Turkey offered to run and guard the airport after the withdrawal of troops.
However, the Taliban issued a warning and said such a move would be a “mistake” and that any country doing so would be considered invaders.
“The presence of foreign forces under whatever name or by whichever country in our homeland is unacceptable for the Afghan people and the Islamic Emirate (Taliban),” the group cautioned in a statement.
The Taliban insisted that the security of airports, foreign embassies, and diplomatic offices is the responsibility of Afghans, saying that “no one should hold out hope of keeping military or security presence” in Afghanistan.
In a communique issued by the Heads of State and Government participating in the NATO Summit, it was stated that NATO will retain a Senior Civilian Representative’s Office in Kabul to continue diplomatic engagement and enhance its partnership with Afghanistan.
“Recognising its importance to an enduring diplomatic and international presence, as well as to Afghanistan’s connectivity with the world, NATO will provide transitional funding to ensure the continued functioning of Hamid Karzai International Airport,” the communique read.
“We will also step up dialogue on Afghanistan with relevant international and regional partners. We continue to support the ongoing Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process, and call on all stakeholders to help Afghanistan foster a lasting inclusive political settlement that puts an end to violence; safeguards the human rights of Afghans, particularly women, children, and minorities; upholds the rule of law; and ensures that Afghanistan never again serves as a safe haven for terrorists.”
NATO looking at setting up training base for Afghan forces in Qatar
Security officials under NATO command have approached Qatar to secure a base that can be used to train Afghan special forces as part of a strategic commitment after foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan, three senior Western officials told Reuters.
After two decades of war, forces from 36 countries involved in NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan are set to pull out of the country in coordination with a U.S. troop withdrawal by September 11.
“We are holding talks to earmark a base in Qatar to create an exclusive training ground for senior members of the Afghan forces,” said a senior Western security official in Kabul.
The official, whose country is part of the U.S.-led NATO alliance in Afghanistan, requested anonymity as he was not authorized to speak with journalists.
An integral part of Resolute Support has been to train and equip Afghan security forces fighting the Taliban, which was ousted from power in 2001 and has since waged an insurgency.
“We have made an offer but it is for authorities in Qatar to decide if they are comfortable with NATO using their territory as a training ground,” said a second security source based in Washington DC.
A third source, a diplomat based in Kabul, told Reuters bringing “Afghan special force members to Qatar for about four to six weeks of rigorous training” was under discussion.
Qatar’s government and NATO’s communications office did not respond to questions about the proposal to use the Gulf state as a base for training Afghan forces.
The Afghan government also did not respond to a request for comment.
Khalilzad says US ‘not leaving Afghanistan’ despite troop pullout
The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has said the United States will not abandon the war-torn country even after the withdrawal of its forces.
Addressing a press conference during his visit to Kazakhstan’s capital, Nur-Sultan on Sunday, Khalilzad said: “Our forces are leaving Afghanistan, but the United States is not leaving Afghanistan. We will work hard for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.”
“We will continue our security assistance, and we will continue our economic and humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan,” he added.
This comes as concerns continue to grown around the uncertainty in Kabul amid a spike in violence and stalled peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan Republic.
In Nur-Sultan, Khalilzad said he regularly discusses Afghanistan with his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin’s special representative Zamir Kabulov, RFE\RL reported Monday.
“Russia and the United States are working well together in promoting peace in Afghanistan,” according to him.
Khalilzad is currently on a visit to the region in a drive to muster support for the peace process ahead of the US and NATO troops withdrawal, which is expected to be finalized by September 11.
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