How Saudi Arabia stood by Pakistan after nuclear tests

Khalid Mahmood, former Pakistani ambassador to Saudi Arabia. (AN photo)
Updated 18 February 2019

How Saudi Arabia stood by Pakistan after nuclear tests

  • Former Pakistani ambassador Khalid Mahmood says Pakistani officials did not tell Riyadh of its intent to test
  • Envoy reiterates King Fahd stood firm with Pakistan despite international pressure

ISLAMABAD: Khalid Mahmood was in Jeddah on the afternoon of May 28, 1998, waiting to receive a delegation, when news broke that Pakistan had conducted five underground nuclear tests under then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Mahmood, who was Pakistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia at the time, sat in his hotel room watching TV reports of the tests and awaiting instructions on his next move from the Foreign Ministry.

By that evening, he told Arab News, he decided to break protocol and make contact with the Royal Court, requesting an urgent meeting with then-King Fahd the following day, a non-working Friday.

To Mahmood’s surprise, the king agreed. By then, the ambassador had also received instructions from Islamabad: A diplomatically isolated Pakistan was to seek the support of the king and crown prince.

Mahmood denied the widely held opinion that Pakistani officials had already informed Riyadh of their intent to test. “It’s not true that I conveyed to them (the Saudis) that we were going to have this nuclear test,” he said.

Mahmood described how, with “great fanfare and (motorcycle) escorts,” he was taken to the palace, where the king apologized for not being able to get up to greet him on account of a bad knee. “It was so very gracious of him,” Mahmood said. “Nobody expects the king to get up and receive (diplomats).”

After listening to Islamabad’s reasons for the surprise nuclear tests, Mahmood said the king was brief in his response. 

“He said we are against what you have done because we are a member of the non-proliferation treaty. But we know and understand why you have done it. And we will support you more than you expect of us.”

After Pakistan tested the weapons, the US imposed harsh sanctions, including cutting off trade credits, private bank loans and support for loans not based on relief from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Arms sales and military aid to Pakistan were already cut off under separate legislation in 1990, when it was determined that Pakistan had nuclear weapons.

At this difficult moment in Pakistan’s history, Mahmood said, the king’s “depth of brotherly feeling” was touching.

The following day, then-Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz held a longer meeting, officially reiterating the Kingdom’s support for Pakistan, with assurances in the form of a four-year deferred oil financing facility worth roughly $3.4 billion. This gave Pakistan the confidence to go ahead and conduct another nuclear test on May 30, Mahmood said.

A few weeks later, the envoy was called in again for a meeting with the crown prince, who had been receiving persistent calls from US President Bill Clinton asking Riyadh to reconsider its position on Pakistan.

But the crown prince refused to comply. “Our relations with Pakistan are of a different nature,” Mahmood quoted the crown prince as having told the Americans.


Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Zakat and Tax prohibits sale of cigarettes without tax stamps

Updated 2 min 44 sec ago

Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Zakat and Tax prohibits sale of cigarettes without tax stamps

  • The authority called on all consumers to report illegal products through its official website

RIYADH: The General Authority of Zakat and Tax (GAZT) announced that it will ban the sale and circulation of cigarette packs without tax stamps, starting today.

GAZT explained that this decision is based on the provisions of the executive regulation of the selective tax system related to tax stamps, within the framework of the unified agreement for selective tax for Gulf Cooperation Council countries.

The tax stamp is defined as a “distinctive sign,” in the form of a sticker or a symbol containing encrypted digital data, placed on selected products and activated electronically. The sticker is ordered, printed and followed through a tracking program. Producers and importers of the selected products are required to comply with specific product standards.

GAZT stated that the application of the tax stamps system will strengthen the imposition of controls on the tax collection on selected products that are imported to Saudi Arabia. It will also strengthen the ability to verify the safe entry of selected products into the Kingdom, in a lawful and legitimate manner, to ensure the collection of all due taxes on this type of goods. The application of tax stamps also ensures that the compliance standards set out in the World Health Organization Convention on Tobacco Control are met.

GAZT confirmed that the consumer can verify the legitimacy and integrity of tax seals through the verification application available on smart phones, launched by GAZT in conjunction with the application of the tax stamping system, so that the user can scan the bar code on cigarette packs through the application.

The authority called on all consumers to report illegal products through its official website (GAZT.GOV.SA), or through the unified call center (19993), or the verification application.