King Abdullah’s visit

It appears that Pakistan’s decision at the end of last year to co-sponsor a UN resolution against President Trump’s Jerusalem shuffle might have started paying off — in allies, at least. Jordan’s King Abdullah, who was in town this week, described this country as source of strength for the Muslim Ummah.

His visit here comes at a very uncertain time for Amman. Its relations with the US are strained due to the unquiet American president’s effective suffocating of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Closer to home, ties with Saudi Arabia — once considered an ally — are similarly not what they once were. Jordan is said to be still reeling from what it sees as Riyadh’s lukewarm condemnation of Trump Town’s controversial move; with the Saudi authorities believed to have ordered a partial media blackout on this front. In short, the King needs new men.

At the same time, he is also plagued byspill-overs from regional conflicts as well as fiscal challenges. The $5 billion Gulf Cooperation Grant that he secured back in 2011 expired five years later. In addition, Amman is said to owe a cool $37 billion to the IMF. Its citizenry is paying this debt by way of new government taxes imposed last year.

Jordan may well be also eyeing training opportunities for its own armed forces with Pakistan’s now battle-hardened military. After all, ISIS still has a footprint in the Middle East and remains a serious threat to the Kingdom.

Given this scenario, Pakistan therefore becomes an attractive ally. Especially considering the increased commercial activity that CPEC promises. After all, Chinese premier Xi Jinping has touted the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative (of which CPEC is part) as the recreation of the ancient Silk Road which allowed trade between Beijing and the Middle East centuries ago.

Pakistan should certainly take advantage of this situation. After all, given the sorry state of ties with both our eastern and western neighbours — we need all the friends we can get. However, our close relationship with Saudi Arabia may get in the way of increased cooperation with Jordan. This cannot be allowed to happen. Islamabad must refrain from becoming party to Arab world disputes; while making as many inroads into the region as possible.  *

Published in Daily Times, February 10th 2018.