Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have long had warm ties, but the no-strings-attached gift sparked immediate concern from Pakistani journalists, security experts, and opposition politicians, who question whether the grant is part of a behind-the-scenes deal for Pakistan to provide weapons for Syrian rebels.
“There are no free lunches in foreign diplomacy,” says Baqir Sajjad, a journalist at Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, which has published articles questioning the deal.
The grant was confirmed at a briefing by Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s advisor on national security and foreign affairs, who also said that Saudi Arabia had agreed to purchase weapons from Pakistan.
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The Pakistan government declined to specify what kind of weapons the Kingdom was looking for and denied that any arms purchased by Saudi Arabia will be sent to Syria. Pakistan, which has the sixth-largest army in the world, is known as a major arms importer, but it also sells fighter jets, anti-tank missiles, armored personal carriers, and small arms to Sri Lanka, Iraq, and Malaysia.
Ayesha Siddiqa, a defense expert based in Islamabad, says that Saudi Arabia – who is desperate to counter arch-rival Iran’s support for the Syrian regime and has publicly called for arming Syrian rebels – may want to buy weapons from Pakistan rather than other countries because Pakistan cannot enforce an agreement about where the arms end up.
“If the arms bought from the West were supplied to Syrian rebels and the sellers like the United States or other such countries found out, they would be able impose sanctions on the Saudis,” she says. “But Pakistan has no such leverage over the Saudis if they violate the agreement” because the government is cash-strapped and worried that US foreign aid will diminish once American troops withdraw from Afghanistan.