Pakistan Army vows ‘to stand by Saudi brethren’

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and former Pakistan Army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif receiving a guard of honor. (File photo)
Updated 18 February 2019

Pakistan Army vows ‘to stand by Saudi brethren’

  • Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have always been close defense partners

KARACHI: Defense cooperation between Islamabad and Riyadh has withstood the test of time, said Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, head of the Pakistan army’s media wing. 

“Pakistan is committed to standing by its Saudi brethren,” Ghafoor told Arab News.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman signed a series of agreements to bolster investment in Pakistan with the Kingdom also planning to build a major oil refinery in the country.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Pakistan’s foreign minister, told Arab News that the investment initiatives proved that “strong ties (between the two countries) have been revived.”

He added: “Both countries also have strong security relations. If anyone would create chaos in or attack the Kingdom, Pakistan would stand by its brethren Saudi Arabia. We had been with the Kingdom in the past and we will stand by it in the future.”

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have historically been close defense partners. Pakistan helped the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) build and fly its first fighter jets. In 1969, Pakistan Air Force pilots flew the RSAF’s Lightning to thwart intrusions along the Kingdom’s southern border from south Yemen.

Over the next two decades, up to 15,000 Pakistani troops were posted in the Kingdom to strengthen security, and almost 13,000 troops and 6,000 advisers were stationed in Saudi Arabia until the Gulf War in 1991.

Under a 1982 protocol, cooperation was widened to include military training, defense production and sharing, and joint exercises. Pakistan’s armed forces have frequently taken part in joint military exercises inside Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan People’s Party Sen. Sehar Kamran, president of the Center for Pakistan and Gulf Studies, said that Pakistanis had always felt a special reverence for Saudi Arabia as the land where Islam was founded and developed.

“The leadership of Saudi Arabia and its government have been coordinating with Pakistan on many important issues, and share similarities on different regional and international matters,” she said.

Military cooperation had been mutual and not a one-way street, she added. 

“Saudi Arabia sent its two naval ships to help Pakistan in its war against India 1971,” Kamran said. “The Kingdom has also unconditionally supported Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir.”

The Kingdom came to Pakistan’s aid in May 1998 — after it tested nuclear weapons — and promised to supply 50,000 barrels of free oil per day to help the country cope with likely economic sanctions.

Dr. Moonis Ahmar, a professor of international relations at Karachi University, said that Pakistan developed strong relations with Saudi Arabia during former prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s regime.

“During Gen. Zia-ul-Haq’s government military cooperation between the two countries strengthened further,” Ahmar said, adding that a Pakistan army division was deployed on Saudi Arabia’s request to reclaim the Grand Mosque in Makkah after insurgents seized it in November 1979.

Security analyst Imtiaz Gul said relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were linked to the friendship between King Faisal and Bhutto. “These ties then extended to military cooperation,” he said.

The Saudis are indebted to Pakistan for the support it had extended to the royal family over the years, Gul said. Currently, Pakistan’s retired army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, commands a Saudi-led Islamic military alliance to fight terrorism. 

“The Kingdom asking for Gen. Raheel to lead the Islamic military alliance is also a huge manifestation of its trust in Pakistan’s military,” he said.

In recent years, however, Pakistan has opted to stay out of a Saudi conflict with Yemen, adopting a policy of neutrality and non-intervention. 

 Kamran said while Pakistan had upheld its policy of non-intervention it was always ready to protect the holy land. 

“Religious affinity, reverence for the two Holy Cities of Makkah and Madinah, a deep historical connection, as well as economic, social, and cultural bonds have united the people from these two lands in perpetuity,” she said.

“In spite of an evolving geopolitical and geostrategic landscape, the two have always been able to stand together on issues related to international peace and security.

“What sets this particular bilateral relationship apart is the absolute trust and mutual respect at heart, which has been an institutional policy of the state, irrespective of the government in power. Consequently, this all-weather friendship has withstood the test of time,” she said.


Saudi pursuit of ‘green Kingdom’ goal gets a boost

Updated 18 November 2019

Saudi pursuit of ‘green Kingdom’ goal gets a boost

  • Agreement between agriculture ministry and Dubai's ICBA aimed at conserving natural resources
  • Kingdom's biosaline agriculture research and systems stands to benefit from ICBA's expertise

DUBAI: Agricultural development and environmental sustainability in Saudi Arabia will receive a boost in the coming years, thanks to a new agreement between the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) in Dubai and the Saudi Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture.

The agreement aims to enable Saudi Arabia to achieve its goal of preservation and sustainable management of its natural resources by raising the quality of biosaline agriculture research and systems.

The ministry says that the agreement will make use of the ICBA’s expertise in capacity development besides agricultural and environmental research, especially in the fields of vegetation development, combating desertification and climate change adaptation.

“It also includes training programs for Saudi technicians and farmers,” the ministry said. “In addition, it will localize, implement and develop biosaline agriculture research and production systems for both crops and forestation, which contributes to environmental and agricultural integration.”

Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, the ICBA’s director general, told Arab News: “The agreement had been in the making for about two years. That was when we were approached by the Saudi government.”

Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, ICBA Director General, at the center's Quinoa fields in Dubai. (Supplied photo)

She said: “We put forward a proposal to demonstrate how the ICBA can help the Saudi government to implement its Green Kingdom Initiative, through which the ministry is trying to restore green coverage in the country and revive old conservation practices.”

Geographical features and climatic conditions very greatly from one part of the country to the other.

In the past, experimentation with such crops as potatoes, wheat and alfalfa proved detrimental to the Kingdom’s environment and natural resources due to faster rates of groundwater withdrawal.

“The ministry wanted to put a halt to over-abstraction of water, so they went through different policies,” Elouafi said.

“They made sure, for example, that farmers stopped producing wheat because about 2,400 liters of water is consumed to produce 1 kg of wheat. It was a huge amount,” she added.

“The new strategy is to find more appropriate crops for the farming community, which is quite large in the Kingdom.”

Saudi Arabia has been trying to grow its own food on a large scale since the 1980s. 

The objective of the Green Kingdom Initiative is to reduce the agricultural sector’s water demand by finding alternatives to thirsty crops.

The agreement will require the ICBA, over the next five years, to build for Saudi Arabia a new biosaline agriculture sector. 

As part of this shift, cultivation of a number of crops, notably quinoa, pearl millet and sorghum, will be piloted in high-salinity regions and then scaled up.

“The crops did very well in the UAE,” Elouafi said. “We’re looking at Sabkha regions, which have very high salinity and wetlands, and are on the ministry’s environmental agenda.”

Another objective is “smart” agriculture, which will involve raising water productivity, controlling irrigation water consumption and changing farming behavior.

Elouafi said that getting farmers in the Kingdom to stop cultivating wheat took some time as they had become accustomed to heavy government subsidies. In 2015, wheat production was phased out, followed by potatoes a year later and then alfalfa. 

“Farmers were provided everything to the point where they got used to a very good income and a very easy system,” she said.

“Now farmers are being asked to start producing something else, but the income won’t be the same, so it’s very important at this stage that the ministry has a plan and it’s fully understood.”

The agreement envisages preparation of proposals for ministry projects that involve plant production, drought monitoring, development of promising local crop and forestation varieties, and conservation of plant genetic resources.

“We’re also discussing capacity building because the ministry is big and has many entities. Because Saudi Arabia is a large country and has the capacity to meet some of its food requirements internally, what’s required is a better understanding of the country’s natural capabilities in terms of production of the crops it needs, like certain cereals,” Elouafi said.

“The way the authorities are going about it right now is more organized and more holistic. They’re trying to plan it properly.”

Elouafi said that having a better understanding of Saudi Arabia’s water constraints and managing the precious resource is essential.

 

Although almost the entire country is arid, there is rainfall in the north and along the mountain range to the west, especially in the far southwest, which receives monsoon rains in summer.

 

Sporadic rain may also occur elsewhere. Sometimes it is very heavy, causing serious flooding, including in Riyadh.

“They (the government) are very interested in drought management systems. The Kingdom has a long history of agriculture,” Elouafi said.

“It has large quantities of water in terms of rainfall, and certain regions have mountainous conditions, which are conducive to agriculture.”

Clearly, preservation of water resources is a priority for the Saudi government. But no less urgent is the task of conversion of green waste to improve soil quality, increase soil productivity and water retention, and reduce demand for irrigation.

The Kingdom is one of at least three Gulf Cooperation Council countries that are taking steps to develop a regulatory framework for the recycling of waste into compost.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman are respectively aiming to recycle 85 percent, 75 percent and 60 percent of their municipal solid waste over the next decade, according to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) entitled “Global Food Trends to 2030.”

Saudi Arabia and the UAE rank in the bottom quartile of the 34 countries covered by the EIU’s Food Sustainability Index, with low scores for nutrition and food loss and waste. 

The answer, according to many farmers, policymakers and food-industry experts, is a shift toward more sustainable management of each country’s natural resources.