Pakistani diplomatic offices are on alert after Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said his country’s relations with Pakistan did not come at the expense of the Kingdom’s ties with India. The Statement coming on the eve of Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Saudi Arabia and in the close aftermath of the month long military exercise “North Thunder” – which was attended by the army chief and the Prime Minister – have ruffled a few feathers in Islamabad. Nawaz Sharif has instructed his diplomatic staff to stand up and stop Saudi Arabia falling into the hands of India – and it is right to do so.

For decades the Kingdom has maintained a very unitary conception of bilateral relationships, forcing Pakistan to eschew relations with its immediate neighbour Iran as a condition for cordial diplomatic engagement with it. Today its foreign minister is advocating a stance that stands in direct contradiction to its own policies. The Pakistan-India relationship might not mirror the Iran-Saudi Arabia one completely, but the extent of military, economic and diplomatic antagonism is comparable. Since the conception of Pak-Saudi ties both countries have used each other in similar roles; Pakistan as a makeweight against Iran and Saudi Arabia as a partner against India. Any dilution of the role is rightly viewed as betrayal by the government. This sense of diplomatic duplicity on the part of the kingdom is especially strong after the conclusion of the military exercise; a reluctant Pakistan was convinced to become part of a military coalition that implied action in Syria, Iraq and possibly Iran, and days after its top leaders were part of the event, the kingdom advocates “tremendous uplift” in bilateral relations with a country that still has sporadic skirmishes with Pakistan and whose leaders bash Pakistan as a party policy.

Objectively it is understandable that the kingdom wants stronger ties with India; there is a large Indian diaspora in the gulf, there is potential for extensive economic exchange, and following the US shale oil revolution Asian markets are the biggest importers of Saudi oil. But if the kingdom expects Pakistan to adopt a nuanced viewpoint on its relationship with India than it must do the same vis-à-vis Pakistan’s relationship with Iran. After the lifting of international sanctions, cooperation with Iran will not only bring security to the Afghan theatre but economic boom for Pakistan as well. If Saudi Arabia goes ahead with its diplomatic advances with India then it mustn’t play the sullen child when the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani visits Islamabad later this year.