Saudi Arabia is reportedly in talks with its ally Pakistan to provide weapons to the Syrian opposition against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. At the same time, it is deepening defense relations with Pakistan’s nemesis, India.
The AFP news agency reported on Sunday that the Saudis were seeking anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons from Pakistan — weapons the United States, Saudi Arabia’s ally, has refused to deliver to Syrian opposition fighters, fearing they might end up in the hands of Islamic extremists.
Saudi Arabia has been increasingly apprehensive about American policy in the Middle East. It was disappointed when President Barack Obama did not follow up on his threat to use military force against the Assad regime after it had allegedly deployed chemical weapons against civilians and rebels. It also regards warily American overtures to Iran, its rival for hegemony in the region.
The Saudi request for Pakistani weapons — which was not confirmed by authorities in either state — comes as Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the defense minister and heir presumptive to the Saudi throne, visited New Delhi to sign a memorandum of understanding on future defense cooperation. The pact would allow for the sharing of defense information, military training and cooperation in logistics and security.
Commercial relations between India and Saudi Arabia are also expanding. The total trade volume between the two countries has doubled in the last four years, to nearly $44 billion in 2012-2013, when Pakistani-Saudi trade did not exceed $5 billion. Saudi Arabia is India’s fourth-largest trading partner and main provider of oil while it has had to reduce sales from Iran as a result of international sanctions. Some two million Indian workers are employed in the Arab kingdom.
The Pakistanis, whose economy is expected to grow just 2.3 percent this year, may be uncomfortable with this burgeoning Indo-Saudi relationship but are unlikely to lose an ally. The Saudis backed them during their wars with India and opposed the secession of East Pakistan which nevertheless became Bangladesh in 1971. They also collaborated with Pakistan and the United States in supporting the Afghan mujahideen in their resistance to the Soviet occupation in the 1980s when Saudi Arabia financed Pakistan’s military modernization.
The less secure alliance is the one between Saudi Arabia and the United States. Even if the former has little choice but to remain an American client state, given how dependent it is on American military aid and equipment, it is seeking help elsewhere to wage its proxy war in Syria against Iran’s ally, Assad.