The two guys who run Pakistan—the Prime Minister, who runs the civilian government, and the Army Chief of Staff, who represents the real power behind the state—arrived in Saudi Arabia on Thursday morning for major military drills. The Financial Times reports:
The visit by Nawaz Sharif and Raheel Sharif [no relations] for Thursday’s “North Thunder” event comes amid a growing debate in Pakistan over whether it should scale up its military relationship with Saudi Arabia — including taking a bigger role in Riyadh’s “military alliance” of Muslim nations fighting terrorism.
“The government of Pakistan has affirmed that we will always stand shoulder to shoulder with our Saudi brethren against any threat to territorial integrity and sovereignty of Saudi Arabia,” said Pakistan’s foreign ministry in a statement. “Both countries enjoy multi-faceted co-operation, including in the fields of defence and counter terrorism”.
Pakistani troops participating in the Saudi exercises “are one contingent among troops from 21 countries”, said a senior foreign ministry official in Islamabad. “We are not an exception. There should be no objection to what we are doing there.”
But they are an exception: Pakistan is the only Sunni nation with a nuclear weapon. And it’s got a large and powerful military more or less running a poor but populous Sunni state that’s taken over billions and billions of dollars in Saudi aid. And the Saudis, who increasingly feel they are in mortal peril from an emboldened (and Russia-allied) Iran, aren’t likely to forget it. We doubt the Saudis who met with the Sharifs were discussing the finer points of breeding racehorses.
TAI Editor Adam Garfinkle recently explained what recent major Saudi military maneuvers, such as these drills, are supposed to achieve:
All U.S.-aligned Sunni states are in near panic as a result of American self-deterrence. The wriggling about of the Saudi government, one day seeming to resolve to send troops into Syria, the next backing off when the intended diplomatic tripwire fails to ensnare the Americans, is one case in point.
The Saudis would prefer the Americans, not the Pakistanis, take care of their security concerns. But if that does not happen—if the Obama Administration (as is likely) and/or a future Administration does not go along—and if Saudi Arabia gets increasingly panicky, the Saudis may call Islamabad and request troop deployments, a nuke, or both.
The last thing anyone needs in the Middle East is more Pakistan, and the last thing Pakistan needs is more exposure to Middle Eastern sectarian conflicts. Unfortunately, both may yet come to pass.