Rumours regarding the removal of Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, ever since his statement regarding ditching Saudi Arabia for Kashmir’s sake, have gone rife in the federal capital as reports claim he is likely to be replaced by Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari amid Islamabad’s attempts to mend ties with Riyadh.
Qureshi had earlier this month accused the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) of dilly-dallying on the Kashmir issue in remarks that were seen by Riyadh as an attack on its leadership of the organisation.
“I am once again respectfully telling OIC that a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) is our expectation. If you cannot convene it, then I’ll be compelled to ask Prime Minister Imran Khan to call a meeting of the Islamic countries that are ready to stand with us on the issue of Kashmir and support the oppressed Kashmiris,” Qureshi had said during an interview.
Days after his statement, as diplomatic strains occur between Islamabad and Riyadh over the Kashmir issue, it was announced by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) that Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa will be visiting Saudi Arabia to discuss regional security issues and Kashmir dispute with the Saudi leadership.
“Yes, he [Gen Bajwa] is travelling,” the Pakistan Army spokesperson told the foreign media outlet, adding that the visit was pre-planned and “primarily military affairs oriented”.
However, reports had said that while the two countries are traditionally close and Saudi Arabia in 2018 gave Pakistan a $3 billion loan and $3.2 billion oil credit facility to help its balance of payments crisis, Riyadh is irked by criticism from Islamabad that Saudi Arabia has been lukewarm on the Kashmir territorial dispute, motivating COAS Bajwa’s fence-building visit Sunday.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari publicly criticised Qureshi, saying his statements had let down both the Kashmiris and PM Imran.
While her statement was seen as the first step to replace Qureshi in a bid to pacify the Saudis, it suggests that the Imran Khan government is publicly distancing itself from the actions and statements of the incumbent foreign minister.
If there is any truth to the claims, it won’t be the first time cash-strapped Pakistan will be prioritising relations with Saudi Arabia, as most recently, Islamabad had also pulled out of a Muslim nations’ forum in Malaysia at the last minute on insistence by Riyadh, which saw the gathering as an attempt to challenge its leadership of the OIC.
Saudia Arabia had already made Pakistan pay back $1 billion two weeks ago, forcing it to borrow from another close ally, China, and Riyadh is yet to respond to Pakistan’s request to extend the oil credit facility.