Pakistan’s fraternal relationship with Saudi Arabia has historically extended over countless strategic dimensions. And with the Saudi prince in town holding talks with defence minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif, there has been heavy deliberation over bilateral cooperation in the defence sector. Both parties have appreciated the gesture and emphasised on strengthening their mutual loyalty by focusing on matters of defence training and advanced ammunition. The Saudi Prince also called on Adviser to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz to discuss bilateral and regional issues.

As always, there is some context to analyse here. To understand what Pakistan really means to the Saudis from a defence perspective, the words of former foreign secretary Najmuddin Shaikh offer a reasonable explanation: “Pakistan is [their] second line of defence, to be called up in times of difficulty.” And when called upon, ever available to do the dirty work (perhaps as one’s good friends always should). Only, there are a few basic pre-requisites for Behaving Like Friends 101.

First, there is that issue of Pakistani migrant workers under the Saudis. Expat Pakistanis suffer extreme discrimination under the Saudi legal system. There are 4,000 Pakistanis languishing away in Saudi jails for minor offences. Deportation of abjectly poor Pakistan migrant workers has destroyed lives. These bitter truths must be addressed if we desire ‘brotherly’ rapport. Brothers, for instance, do not infringe upon human rights.

Secondly, the very nature of defence sought from Pakistan by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states ought to be called into question. It is an open secret that during the volatility of political dissent, the Arab royals have – time and again – turned to their Pakistani brothers to quell citizen uproar through extra judicial violence. Pakistani military units have trained local security forces while also manning complicated equipment such as radars under GCC defence cooperation agreements. Unfortunately, more often than not, these bolstered defence efforts have been exercised on civilians. If one were to describe the archetype of Pakistan in this case, ‘mercenary thug from South Asia’ would suffice.

There is a dirty lot we’re shying away from. To say it is a rumpled friendship would be an understatement. These social realities cannot remain absent during these extravagant meetings. Simply put: Both states owe their masses an explanation of administrative hiccups on both sides as well as honest amendments to rectify past errors. We can talk about friendship later.