mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Saudi Arabia & Pakistan
A Most Consequential Alliance

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif arrived today in Saudi Arabia on a state visit meant to smooth relations between the countries. Matters are tense between the two Sunni powers after Pakistan’s refusal to join Riyadh in the Saudi intervention in Yemen, despite the billions in ‘aid’ Saudi Arabia has funneled to its neighbor across the water over the years. “The Saudis were particularly perturbed over not physically seeing Pakistanis on their side. This visit will address that perception and convey to the regional actors in the clearest terms that Pakistan stands by Saudi Arabia,” a Pakistani diplomat told Dawn.

Saim Saeed’s recent piece for TAI is a must-read for those who want to understand the dynamics behind the recent Pakistani decision. Perhaps his most important point, however, returns our focus to Riyadh:

Crucially, Saudi Arabia is also rumored to depend on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in case of emergencies. Ian Bremmer has pithily said, “Saudi Arabia already has a nuclear program. It’s called Pakistan.”

If things continue to get worse between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the Saudis may opt to cash that chip in—which is why today’s visit, and ongoing relations between the two powers, is so significant.

Features Icon
Features
show comments
  • Kevin

    Whatever the Pakistanis say now, it’s probably too late. The Saudis realize the Pakistanis have proven to be utterly unreliable in a pinch, and hence probably not worth putting on retainer.

    • JR

      Do you think Saudis will just say “give us the bomb now” instead of waiting for God knows what? Seems like a logical move to me…

      • GS

        It is not enough to “have” a gift bomb, it is necessary to have a technically qualified maintenance group around it. The Saudis might, with great difficulty, provide the security, but do they have the native technicians? Because it is not a matter to be entrusted to the immigrant labor.

        • Nevis07

          Good question. Israelis, maybe?

          • GS

            @Nevis07: No. This is something that only the trusted natives could be entrusted with. And if one sends a native group for training – say, to pakistan – one would have to saturate that group with the informers and state security types, to spy on everyone and on each other. It would be a serious mess.

        • JR

          Agreed. North Koreans perhaps? Listen, I get it. There are no ideal solutions from Saudi’s perspective. However, I get the feeling that Sunni Saudi Arabia thinks having Shiite Iran as the sole proprietor of the atomic bomb is the absolute worst option. People tend to expand the definition of what’s acceptable and what risks are worthwhile when they think their life is in imminent danger.

          • GS

            Let them all reciprocally akbar each other to the uttermost. As Shakespeare would have put it, a plague on both their houses.

      • Dan Greene

        The answer to your question is simple: No, they won’t.

    • Dan Greene

      The Pakistanis would have been reliable in the event of a direct threat to Saudi Arabia and the Saudi regime. But the Saudis never should have expected them to shuffle into an endless and inconsequential war in Yemen, given all of Pakistan’s problems. This is a story of Saudi paranoia and strategic incompetence, not Pakistani “unreliability.”

      • Kevin

        Easy to say from 5,000 miles away. Just because you’re paranoid (or normal in the Middle East) doesn’t mean you not feel betrayed. The whole point of having mercenaries is that they don’t judge you.

        • Dan Greene

          Mercenaries get paid for performing specific military service. Pakistan never got “paid” like that, so the term is not really applicable. And what specifically is it that is “easy to say from 5,000 miles away?” I’m not clear what your point is there.

    • f1b0nacc1

      Don’t you mean “keeping on retainer”?

      • Kevin

        Yes. And they are regretting having done so. And they’d like their device now, thank you very much.

        While maintaining a bomb might be something they should worry about I don’t think it drives their thinking. It’s having a bomb that gives you the prestige and terrorizes your prospective foes. They can worry about hiring once this is done they can worry about hiring Russians, Pakistanis Koreans, etc to maintain it.

        • f1b0nacc1

          We entirely concur

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service