ISLAMABAD - Riyadh’s growing love for New Delhi is causing serious concern to Islamabad as the country’s diplomats scrambled to stop the traditional ally from moving away towards the historic rival, The Nation learnt.

The diplomatic tremor came 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.

He expressed the hope that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first visit to Saudi Arabia early next month would see a “tremendous uplift” in bilateral relations.

Officials at the foreign ministry said the al-Jubeir’s statement was seen as a reaction to Pakistan’s diplomacy on Saudi tension with Iran, Syria and Yemen.

Calling it “a bombshell for most of us”, a senior official said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has asked his diplomatic corps to stand up and stop Saudi Arabia from going into the hands of India.

“Pakistan is a historic ally and will remain so,” al-Jubeir said in his statement, adding Saudi Arabia and India have a strategic relationship in all fields. He pointed out that Saudi Arabia had extensive economic relations with India. “We are the largest supplier of oil to India.”

Al-Jubeir said Saudi Arabia had a community of almost 3 million Indians. “They are our doctors, bankers, engineers and teachers. They are by far the most peaceful non-Saudi community and we appreciate all their contributions to Saudi nation and society. They are an important bridge.”

Established in the 1960s, strategic ties between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have remained largely cordial, except during the erstwhile Pakistan People’s Party led government, which Saudis viewed with suspicion due to the PPP’s secular credentials and close relations with Iran.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif – who recently visited Saudi Arabia along with Army Chief Raheel Sharif - enjoys exceptionally close ties with senior members of the Saudi royal family.

When Sharif was toppled in the bloodless 1999 Pakistani coup d’état, Saudi Arabia intervened and then military ruler Pervez Musharraf allowed Nawaz Sharif and his family to travel into exile to the kingdom.

“This is a bombshell for most of us. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has asked his diplomatic corps to stand up and stop Saudi Arabia from going into the hands of India,” a senior official told The Nation.

Mr Sharif, he said, believed Saudi Arabia has every right to have good ties with India but these should not be comparable to Pakistan.

“He wants the Saudi-India ties to remain within limits and has asked his men to work on this while he will also be in contact with the top leaders in Riyadh,” the official added.

Another official said, in the past, the United States too walked away from Pakistan preferring India. “Though the cases are different yet in case Saudi Arabia also follows the US, Pakistan will be diplomatically knocked out,” he remarked.

He said serious diplomatic efforts will be made to control the Saudi-India friendship from going too far. “The recent meetings of the PM and the army chief with the Saudi leadership have been positive and hopefully Adel Al-Jubeir’s statement would not be the policy of the Kingdom,” he added.

After coming to power in 2013, the incumbent PML-N government regained an enthusiasm for diplomatic and strategic ties with Saudi Arabia.

“This is a bombshell for most of us. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has asked his diplomatic corps to stand up and stop Saudi Arabia from going into the hands of India,” a senior official told The Nation.

Mr Sharif, he said, believed Saudi Arabia has every right to have good ties with India but these should not be comparable to Pakistan.

“He wants the Saudi-India ties to remain within limits and has asked his men to work on this while he will also be in contact with the top leaders in Riyadh,” the official added.

Another official said, in the past, the United States too walked away from Pakistan preferring India. “Though the cases are different yet in case Saudi Arabia also follows the US, Pakistan will be diplomatically knocked out,” he remarked.

He said serious diplomatic efforts will be made to control the Saudi-India friendship from going too far. “The recent meetings of the PM and the army chief with the Saudi leadership have been positive and hopefully Adel Al-Jubeir’s statement would not be the policy of the Kingdom,” he added.

The enthusiasm of Nawaz government to maintain close ties with Saudi Arabia was recently watered down when the Pakistani parliament decided to maintain Pakistan’s traditional policy of neutrality and non-interference in Middle Eastern affairs and refused to send troops to join Saudi-led combat forces in Yemen.

This decision was mainly motivated by a growing shift in Pakistan’s foreign policy, which is apparently becoming regional and China oriented in its outlook and calls for friendly relations with the country’s neighbours, including Iran, and fears that Pakistani involvement in the Middle East will negatively affect sectarian harmony and internal security of the country.

Defence analyst Lt-Gen Amjad Shoaib (r) said Pakistan was the only major military power in Saudi-led military alliance but other countries have their own political significance in the world.

“Pakistan needs a cautious foreign policy in this regard because we need to sustain our relations with Iran. The visit of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Pakistan is also due in coming days,” he added.

After Pakistan announced its National Action Plan against terrorism, criticism of Saudi Arabia’s alleged funding of madrasas and violent sectarian groups also increased.

Saudi Arabia’s 2014 defence agreement with India had also greatly disturbed Pakistani strategists and policymakers. However, analysts believed Pakistan will not want these factors to become permanent irritants in its relations with Saudi Arabia.

Lt-Gen Amjad Shoaib said that Pak-Saudi relations were historic and deep rooted. He said the kingdom’s better ties with India or any other country does not mean a threat to Pakistan.

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are leading members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. KSA was one of the strongest supporters of Pakistan during country’s wars with India, especially opposing the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.

In 1969 pilots of the Pakistan Air Force flew aircraft of the Royal Saudi Air Force to repel an incursion from South Yemen. In the 1970s and 1980s, approximately 15,000 Pakistani soldiers were stationed in the kingdom.

Senior analyst Dr A Z Hilali also said Pakistan and Saudi Arabia had historic bilateral relations which were based on religious grounds. He said the cooperation between the two countries covered several fields.

“Saudi Arabia always supports Pakistan and it is a time tested friend of our country. The Saudi forces are thankful to our military forces who provided them professional training,” he said.

Saudi Arabia has also negotiated the purchase of Pakistani ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Western countries speculate the kingdom secretly funded Pakistan’s nuclear bomb programme and seeks to purchase nuclear weapons from Islamabad to enable it to counter possible threats from the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ possessed by Iran, Iraq and Israel.

While KSA had supported Pakistan’s stance on the Kashmir conflict, it has since endorsed the Paik-India peace process.

Defence analyst Lt-Gen Talat Masood (r) said Pakistan has its unchanged stance on Kashmir and wants to resolve all disputes with India through negotiations but India has never shown maturity in this regard.

Former ambassador B A Malik said, “The regional and global dimension of recently created KSA-led alliance must be kept in mind. The alliance should expand its goal beyond elimination of ISIS.” It should include the Kashmir, Palestine and other issues haunting regional peace into its agenda.

“The Middle Eastern monarchies must reform their political structures in order to make the alliance more inclusive, attractive and long lasting,” he added.