See More on Facebook

Diplomacy, Politics

Imran’s Saudi visit questioned after journalist murdered

A Dawn editorial asks if Imran’s visit to Saudi Arabia is in Pakistan’s best interest.


Written by

Updated: October 24, 2018

Saudi Arabia has always enjoyed a cordial relationship with the West. Despite being run by a conservative autocratic monarchy that has little regard for human rights, the kingdom has never really had to deal with pressure from Western governments or media to change its ways.

A key reason for this is the vast amount of money Riyadh is able to pump into not just Western economies — by buying expensive armaments, for instance — but also because they hire expensive PR companies and lobbyists in Washington and London to ensure that Western media is not too harsh in its criticisms of the kingdom.

All that seems to have changed earlier this month when Jamal Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist, was brutally murdered and his body dismembered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

His crime: criticising the regime of Mohammed bin Salman, the current crown prince and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi regime could not have, in its wildest imagination, anticipated the international reaction that would follow. Not even when 15 out of the 19 hijackers of the 9/11 atrocity were revealed to be Saudi citizens did Riyadh face much in the way of rebuke in the international press.

What then is different this time? A few things.

First, although journalists have been killed in many countries, and certainly Khashoggi cannot be the first Saudi to have met such a tragic fate, he wrote for the Washington Post, one of the most influential newspapers in the world, headquartered in the American capital.

For the last year and a half that he wrote for the Post, he hobnobbed with global elite, giving interviews and interacting with those who are responsible for formulating policy internationally.

Contrary to some news reports, Khashoggi was no dissident. His criticism of the Saudi regime was relatively mild and he never advocated an outright rejection of the monarchy, as some less famous Saudis dissidents have.

In fact, he belonged to a very affluent and influential Saudi family. His uncle, Adnan Khashoggi, was a famous arms dealer and was involved in the Iran-Contra affair, and Dodi Al-Fayed, who died with Princess Diana in the car crash in Paris in 1997, was his first cousin.

So he had personal access and insight into the Saudi royal family far beyond the average journalist. Moreover, since Khashoggi went into exile last year, he had become a permanent resident of the United States.

Finally, his murder took place at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. This wasn’t a hit and run traffic accident which could have been pinned on various culprits.

This was a deliberate attempt to make an example of a critic at an official premises, with official sanction, in a most gruesome manner.

Even by despotic standards, the regime has overstepped.

As Noah Feldman very honestly put it in his column for Bloomberg:

“I’m not proud of it. But I am one of those people who are more viscerally upset by the allegations that journalist Jamal Khashoggi died a brutal death at the hands of Saudi secret police than by the deaths of thousands of people under Saudi bombardment in Yemen.

“The reason isn’t that Khashoggi was a journalist or that he was a legal U.S. resident or that he may have been dismembered, possibly while still alive. It’s much simpler and much less principled than that: It’s because I knew him.”

For many of the journalists who have ensured that this story dominates the international news cycle, this is perhaps the single most important factor, along with the thinking that if this can happen to one journalist without ramification then the chances of this happening to many others around the world escalates. The chances of authoritarian regimes being emboldened also increases.

One would think that given the recent curbs on the press in Pakistan, many in the country would feel the same way.

However, I was a bit surprised to learn, in the last few days, from Twitter and television talk shows, that some journalists in Pakistan didn’t see it that way. A contrary view appeared to dominate.

Let’s extract what we can financially from Saudi Arabia by standing with them at this time while the rest of the world snubs them, reasoned some.

Not only was this view articulated on the Twitter feed of seasoned journalists, but was also endorsed by talk show hosts and analysts on television.

I do understand that Pakistan is facing a financial crisis and that, for as far back as I can remember, our leadership, whether military or civilian, has prided itself on how adept it is at extracting handouts from “friendly countries” rather than taking the requisite steps to reform the economy.

The new government, for all its talk of change, is no different, and is perhaps feeling the crunch more acutely because of the unrealistic promises it made to the people prior to assuming power, and for being unable, so far, to obtain any sizeable funding from a “friendly country”.

As a result, when world business leaders and media groups are boycotting Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative (to be held Oct 23-25), a summit aimed to bolster investor confidence in the kingdom and to reduce its economy’s dependence on oil, Prime Minister Imran Khan is attending Davos in the Desert (as the conference is nicknamed), at the special invitation of King Salman. It is important to analyse whether this decision is in Pakistan’s interest or not.

I would agree with the rationale that it is in Islamabad’s interest to maintain good relations with Riyadh. It is also true that given Pakistan’s economic condition, it is not in a position to condemn Saudi Arabia’s wrongdoing, and that it is something best left for the more powerful players on the world stage.

However, when Saudi Arabia is being isolated by the international community, and when the British trade secretary, Liam Fox, US treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, along with the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, have all pulled out of the conference, what does Pakistan hope to achieve by making its presence felt?

Is the prime minister sure that by ensuring his presence in Riyadh only weeks after his initial visit (when nothing much was promised to him) he will be able to extract sizeable sums from Saudi Arabia?

And will just standing there in solidarity do the trick or will he also have to make statements praising the kingdom’s recent actions?

Let’s not forget that Turkey is an important player in the current situation. All the evidence contradicting the official Saudi statements on the Khashoggi murder has been divulged by Ankara, which is rightly miffed at being the scene of this heinous crime.

Not long ago, when Pakistan was placed on the Financial Action Task Force ‘grey list’, only Turkey stood by Pakistan, while both Saudi Arabia and China refused to do so.

Will Saudi Arabia expect Khan to side with its version of events in the Khashoggi case over Turkey’s?

These are important questions to ponder as there is no free lunch in this world.

When Khan and his team visited the kingdom last month, it was widely speculated that Riyadh would condition economic assistance with Pakistan’s support for its war in Yemen.

Yet intervention in Yemen, which is not in Pakistan’s interest, was resisted by the previous government, with the parliament voting against entering the conflict in 2015, and this has been abided by the current government as well. What has changed in just a few weeks to warrant sudden Saudi generosity?

Let’s also not overlook the fact that there is a lot of uncertainty in Saudi Arabia right now. Mohammed bin Salman’s claim to the throne lacks the legitimacy of his predecessors.

Ibn Saud, the founder of the Kingdom Saudi Arabia, had decided that the throne would pass among his sons.

Mohammed bin Salman is not his son but his grandson, who has bypassed a couple of living sons and many older grandsons to lay claim to the throne. His ability to rule the country is very much tied to his acceptability in the West.

As Donald Trump warned King Salman recently, in his characteristic undiplomatic style, that he “would not last two weeks without the backing of the US military”.

Though Trump himself is reluctant to censure Mohammed bin Salman, vested as he and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, are with him financially, the same cannot be said about the Congress, where a rare bipartisan consensus seems to be emerging that Mohammed bin Salman may need to be replaced.

There have been references to 1964, when King Faisal replaced his brother, King Saud, who was then thought to be unfit to continue ruling.

Add to this the prevailing view that the CIA was never keen on Mohammed bin Salman, as they had been working closely with Mohammed bin Nayef, his older first cousin, whom he had replaced, just last year, and the situation becomes even murkier.

Pakistan’s foreign policy decisions should therefore be carefully deliberated and based on a solid understanding of which way the wind is blowing in Western capitals, Turkey and the Gulf.

Of course, Islamabad should do what is right for its interests, but its interests must be well thought out, with a cognisance that building an image on moral authority and in line with international consensus may be more beneficial in the long run than desperate short-term measures with dubious benefit.



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


Asia News Network
About the Author: ANN members comprise The Korea Herald, China Daily, China Post (Taiwan), Gogo Mongolia, Yomiuri Shimbun and The Japan News, Dawn (Pakistan), The Statesman (India), The Island (Sri Lanka), Kuensel (Bhutan), Kathmandu Post (Nepal), Daily Star (Bangladesh), Eleven Media (Myanmar), The Nation (Thailand), Jakarta Post, The Star and Sin Chew Daily (Malaysia), the Phnom Penh Post and Rasmei Kampuchea (Cambodia), The Borneo Bulletin (Brunei), The Straits Times (Singapore), Vietnam News, Philippine Daily Inquirer and Vientiane Times (Laos).

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Diplomacy, Politics

North Korea beefs up self-defense capabilities in military reorganization

The North have been making many changes ahead of talks. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presided over a meeting of the top military decision-making body to accelerate the development of self-defense capabilities ahead of key events that will decide its national strategy, its state media reported Sunday. Discussions on ways to bolster its military capabilities through organizational restructuring and personnel reshuffle were highlighted during the third expanded meeting of the seventh central military commission of the ruling Workers’ Party. Details on what measures were discussed were not disclosed. “At the meeting, Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un


By Zaffar Abbas
December 23, 2019

Diplomacy, Politics

Modi defends citizenship decision

PM Modi says it has nothing to do with Indian Muslims. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, that unity in diversity is integral to India while addressing ‘Aabhar Rally’ at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan today to kick start Bharatiya Janata Party’s Delhi Assembly Elections campaign slated for early next year, amid protests in Delhi and all over the country against the contentious Citizenship Act and the National Register of Citizenship(NRC). Modi raised slogan of ‘vividhta me ekta, Bharat ki visheshta’ (Unity in diversity is India’s speciality). PM Modi while giving his party and government’s view on CAA and NRC said, “Muslims being misled, I have always ensured that documents will never come in way of development schemes and their beneficiaries.” Citizenship law and NRC have nothing to do with Indian Muslims or with Indian citizens, he clarified. “We have never asked


By The Statesman
December 23, 2019

Diplomacy, Politics

Rallies rage on in India over citizenship law

Thousands of students flood streets of Delhi; Assam state sees five protesters shot dead. Thousands of university students flooded the streets of India’s capital yesterday, while a southern state government led a march and demonstrators held a silent protest in the north-east, to protest against a new law giving citizenship to non-Muslims who entered India illegally to flee religious persecution in several neighbouring countries. The protests in New Delhi followed a night of violent clashes between the police and demonstrators at Jamia Millia Islamia University. People who student organisers said were not students set three buses on fire and the police stormed the university library, firing tear gas at students crouched under desks. Members of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party said opposition parties were using th


By The Straits Times
December 17, 2019

Diplomacy, Politics

China-US trade deal bullish news for both countries, rest of world

From Chinese state media. State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Saturday that the China-US deal on the text of a phase-one economic and trade agreement serves as bullish news for both countries and the rest of the world. Speaking at a joint press conference with Slovenian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Miro Cerar, Wang said China has, as always, been opposed to settling economic and trade disputes by imposing tariffs as there is no winner in a trade war. China has also rejected the use of unilateral pressure as it violates the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO), said Wang. He pointed out that following rounds of back-and-forth negotiations, China and the United States have agreed on the wording of a phase-one economic and trade agreement, and the US side has promised to phase out additional tariffs on Chinese products. The agreement demonstrates the spirit


By Esther Ng
December 16, 2019

Diplomacy, Politics

Biegun arrives in Seoul amid deadlock in NK-US nuclear talks

Pyongyang says it conducted “another crucial test” at Sohae site. US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun arrived in Seoul on Sunday for a “close coordination” with allies amid the deadlock in the denuclearization talks with Pyongyang just weeks before the communist regime’s year-end deadline. A day before, North Korea issued statements to announce that it had carried out “another crucial test” at a satellite launching site, warning the United States to “hold off” any action to “rattle” the regime. During his three-day trip here, the US special envoy is expected to meet with officials here to discuss on the


By Zaffar Abbas
December 16, 2019

Diplomacy, Politics

Myanmar to be sincere in implementing Rohingya repatriation deal

This according to the Bangladeshi Foreign Minister. Bangladesh expects that Myanmar would be more tolerant towards Rohingyas after facing trial at the International Court of Justice, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said today. “My expectation is that Myanmar would be sincere in implementing the bilateral deal that signed with Bangladesh on repatriating Rohingyas from Bangladesh,” he told journalists at his ministry office in Dhaka. “Myanmar has invited me before a case lodged with the International Court of Justice. In response, I told that I would go there when the Rohingyas will go back to Myanmar,” the foreign minister said. “I also invited Myanmar to visit Bangladesh to talk to their Rohingya people and to understand their expectations,” Momen said. Globally it has been established that there was a massive crime committed against the Rohingyas, that was des


By Daily Star
December 16, 2019