Royal Blunder: 7 Times Imran Khan Annoyed MBS

Royal Blunder: 7 Times Imran Khan Annoyed MBS

The Saudi Royal Family welcomed the then-prime minister of Pakistan Imran Khan wholeheartedly, and the Saudi crown prince even declared him his ‘elder brother’ but Imran Khan annoyed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) on eight different occasions during his three and a half years of rule, ruining the relationship between the two brotherly Muslim countries, journalist Javed Chaudhry has reported in his column.

1. Kuala Lumpur Summit

According to Javed Chaudhry, in 2019, then-foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi brought it to the attention of the foreign minister of an influential Islamic country: Pakistan, along with Malaysia, was looking forward to creating an alternative to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

The foreign minister of that influential Islamic country revealed Qureshi’s plan to Saudi Arabia.

Kuala Lumpur Summit was being held in Malaysia since 2014, but it had never achieved much success. However, Kuala Lumpur Summit 2019 was quite different from the summits held in the past. At that summit, Turkey and Pakistan were planning to lay the foundation stone of a new organization that would be bigger than the OIC.

Kuala Lampur Summit 2019

It was the idea of Imran Khan, and he played an active role in its implementation by convincing the then-prime minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to work on this plan. Saudi Arabia was not happy about it at all.

Saudi Arabia tried to keep Pakistan from participating in the Kuala Lumpur Summit 2019, but Imran Khan resisted, which caused severe damage to bilateral ties.

Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi, the special assistant to then-prime minister Imran Khan, played a crucial role in that tense environment since he was considered very close to the Saudi royal family.

The establishment made him a mediator, and he was assigned the task of arranging a meeting between Imran Khan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi made serious efforts in this regard, and eventually, succeeded.

Before the meeting between Imran Khan and the Saudi crown prince, then ISI chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed and foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi visited Riyadh.

The Saudi foreign minister was tough on Qureshi, but Faiz's meeting was somewhat fruitful. Imran Khan reached Riyadh on a one-day visit on December 14, 2019 — five days before the commencement of the Kuala Lumpur summit.

He was staying at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, and had a meeting scheduled with the Saudi crown prince for 1:30 PM. However, the Pakistani premier was made to wait for hours at the hotel, and the Saudi crown prince didn’t call him for the meeting.

2. 'Speech' Against Royal Family At A Saudi Hotel

There was a time when the Saudi crown prince used to receive Imran Khan from the airport and drove him to the airport for departure. But now the Saudi crown prince was not even willing to hold a scheduled meeting. Imran Khan kept waiting for more than three hours, but every time he received a message from the other end to "wait."

At this point, Imran Khan started talking to some people in the hotel lobby and said something about the Saudi royal family too.

He's reported to have said: "If I were not in the need of money… I would…….." The hotel staff was not merely hotel staff. Someone was listening. The contents of Khan's heated speech were brought into the knowledge of the Saudi crown prince.

After this, the prime minister’s staff contacted then-army chief General (r) Bajwa and sought his help. The crown prince reached the hotel at 6:30 PM to meet Imran Khan upon former COAS's request. It was decided during the meeting that no delegation from Pakistan will attend the Kuala Lumpur summit.

2a. Imran Khan Went Back On His Promise 'Within 30 Minutes'

After the meeting, however, Imran Khan left for the airport, and just ahead of the flight, he issued directives for sending a delegation headed by the foreign secretary to Kuala Lumpur. Within no time, the Saudi officials learned about the directives too.

Imran Khan was still on the flight when Saudi Arabia contacted Islamabad and Rawalpindi through a telephone call. Saudi Arabia complained that "You went back on the commitment within 30 minutes."

The situation was embarrassing. The Pakistani side assured Saudi Arabia that the commitment was going to be honoured, and evntually Pakistan apologised to Malaysia for not being able to attend the summit. The matter was solved, but two more blunders in the coming days rocked Pakistan's foreign office to the core.

3. Abusing Crown Prince In Cabinet Meeting

While presiding over a cabinet meeting, Imran Khan termed the behaviour of Saudi crown prince ‘’inappropriate’’ and ‘’an insult to Pakistan’’ and said some bad words about them in Punjabi. The matter came to the knowledge of the establishment when they learned that the Saudi ambassador was trying to get the words translated. Once again, Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi played the role of mediator and helped resolve the matter.

4. Leaking Confidential Information To Tayyip Erdogan

Tayyip Erdogan at World Economic Forum

On January 21, 2020, Imran Khan shared the entire Saudi Arabia story with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan while attending the World Economic Forum in Davis.

Tayyip Erdogan announced the ‘secret story’ to the whole world during a media talk, and this resulted in further weakening of Pak-Saudi ties.

5. Ertugrul On PTV

2020 was the worst year in terms of Pak-Saudi ties. There was no official contact between any Saudi official and Imran Khan the whole year.

Moreover, Imran Khan ordered the airing of the Turkish drama serial "Ertugral’’ on the state-owned channel Pakistan Television (PTV) to annoy the Saudis further.

There are conflicts between Saudi Arabia and Turkey since 1517. Ottomans controlled Saudi Arabia until World War I. They killed all the men in the Al-Saud family; the three or four that were left alive took refuge in Kuwait. So airing the Turkish drama serial "Ertugrul’’ turned out to be the last nail in the coffin.

6. Shah Mahmood Qureshi's Outburst On ARY News

The ship finally sank when the foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, hurled threats at Saudi Arabia on August 5, 2020 on a live show with ARY News. As a result, Saudi Arabia refused to supply petrol to Pakistan on a deferred payment basis and demanded the withdrawal of $1 billion from the State Bank of Pakistan.

Pakistan was facing a shortage of investment at the time. As usual, Imran Khan handed over the matter to the army chief, General (r) Bajwa, who made relentless efforts, borrowed one billion dollars from China on high interest, and managed to return the money somehow to Saudi Arabia.

On December 9, 2020, the Indian army chief visited Saudi Arabia and the UAE. It was the first visit of any Indian army chief to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

That was a big red flag, as per the reading of the establishment. India was willing to provide military training and a Muslim army to Saudi Arabia. Therefore, the establishment had to intervene and due to the efforts of then ISI chief Lt Gen (r) Faiz Hameed the dates of the visit of the Indian army chief were changed and his meeting with the Saudi crown prince was avoided.

The then army chief and DGI had to work very hard to resolve the matter.

7. Wishing To Topple Saudi Royal Family

On March 3, 2021, as TV channels were reporting the news of Yousaf Raza Gillani's victory over Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, Imran Khan said in front of four people sitting in his office, "Is there a way to topple the royal family of .....?"

Among the four men present in Imran Khan’s office, one was there to deliver the good news of the revival of ties with Saudi Arabia. He was shocked to hear this.

That man went straight to the GHQ.

In 2021, during the month of Ramazan, telephone contact was established for the first time between Imran Khan and the Saudi crown prince. When Tahir Ashrafi informed Imran Khan that the Saudi crown prince would call him, he responded, "Why would he (the Saudi crown prince) phone me?"

Imran Khan was briefed that he will receive a call from the Saudi crown prince, and he was requested to avoid talking about Iran, Yemen, the Islamic world, and Riasat-e-Madina and just stick with the matters related to the two countries.

Imran Khan was advised not to utter a single word other than this, as ties were getting revived after relentless efforts by the army chief and the state could not afford any negligence or carelessness on the part of the prime minister.

What happened next? Javed Chaudhry is due to reveal in a future column.